“When you have enormous concentrations of data in a few hands, spying becomes very easy”Posted: June 11, 2013
A best-selling author and technology expert has said that web users should boycott internet giants like Google and Facebook if it is confirmed they were involved in a US surveillance programme referred to as Prism.
In an interview with Wired.co.uk, Professor Tim Wu of Columbia Law School suggested that consumers had a responsibility to leave social networks found out to be collaborating secretly with intelligence services such as the US National Security Agency:
“Quit Facebook and use another search engine. It’s simple.” He added, “It’s nice to keep in touch with your friends. But I think if you find out if it’s true that these companies are involved in these surveillance programs you should just quit.”
Wu cautioned that he felt many facts were not yet verified but admitted he was not surprised to hear of the existence of Prism. News of the programme was, he said, “shocking and dispiriting”.
“When you have enormous concentrations of data in a few hands, spying becomes very easy,” said Wu. “So Facebook and Google were always obvious targets for any government that wants to know stuff about people.”
Wu was speaking after giving a keynote speech to delegates of ORGCon2013, an Open Rights Group conference held in London on Saturday 8 June. Appearing to refer to Prism during his address, Wu asserted that the current situation was one of “crisis”.
As part of his keynote, Wu described several historical examples of technologies having been used as tools of oppression or societal control, such as enforced propaganda radio broadcasts by the Nazi regime. He also commented that he felt web users ought to have a “visceral” sense of ownership over their online data.
In further comments made during interview, Wu criticised the track record of the Obama administration on civil liberty issues, saying that the Justice Department under Obama had, in his opinion, been, “a colossal disappointment in this respect”.
Responding to remarks made by President Obama immediately following revelations on Prism, Wu said, “I think he is underestimating the degree to which people want to feel safe and secure from eavesdropping.” Wu added, “I’m not relieved by his comments at all.”
Wu is known for his views on “network neutrality”, a phrase he coined in the title of a 2003 academic paper which argued that internet service providers and governments should give equal treatment to all data transmitted via telecommunications networks.
According to a leaked PowerPoint presentation, Prism is a secret intelligence programme created to enable members of the NSA to retrieve user data from co-operating technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, told Wired.co.uk: “I think people need to seriously consider quitting [these] services and moving to ones which are located within Europe. But also the government needs to insist that legal rights and privacy rights should be applied to non-US citizens. After all, European governments respect the rights of US citizens. Why shouldn’t they do the same?”
Referring to the breaking of the Prism story two days before ORGCon2013, Killock said, “It focused the minds of everyone at the conference.” He added that many members of ORG believed “they had to do their part to stop such abuses”.
Edited by OLIVIA SOLON