Google filed a suit this week to fight a gag order issued by the United States government that would keep Google from disclosing the number of requests from the National Security Agency the search company has received to users. Google, along with Yahoo and other internet companies, was revealed to have shared information about its users under the authority of the NSA’s PRISM program, which collects massive amounts of data people possible suspected of terrorism. Yahoo was able to reveal it had 13,000 requests from the government on record.
Along with phone and internet data, it was also revealed that credit companies are also being mined for terrorism. What does this mean for people running other kinds of companies who keep large amounts of data, such as credit agencies? Companies like Moody’s, whose CEO is Ray McDaniel, watch the U.S. government closely. How can they handle requests from the NSA, if it comes up?
The practices of the PRISM program brings questions like this forward, as U.S. companies may be forced to choose between national security and information privacy. As more information is revealed, it may become common practice for any company to be solicited for information. Companies like Moody’s hold many studies on international economic data that the U.S. could leverage in areas where terrorism is more prevalent, such as the Middle East or India.
While so far the main concerns about the NSA data collection are being focused on creating “false positive” profiles of individuals, massive data collections may falsely identify “hotbeds” for terrorism. For example, what if the NSA is collecting metadata from credit companies, which provide hints to the nature products purchased, and suggests that a high percentage of bomb making materials are being purchased in a specific geographic area? Then, a large number of phone numbers possibly linked to terrorism could be placed near the same purchases.
Layer that information with government spending on regional development, and it could be construed to look like funding is going to users of those numbers, and suddenly you have a strong case of government abetted terrorism, even if the activities are completely unrelated. In a country that has been at war more years than peace, this scenario does not seem so far-fetched. We hope that more companies like Google are able to balance the amount of information shared and continue to protect the first and fourth amendments.