There is no doubt the integrity of our communications and the privacy of our online activities have been the biggest casualty of the NSA’s unfettered surveillance of our digital lives. But the ongoing revelations of government eavesdropping has had a profound impact on the economy, the security of the internet and the credibility of the U.S. government’s leadership when it comes to online governance. These are among the many serious costs and consequences the NSA and those who sanctioned its activities—including the White House, the Justice Department and lawmakers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein—apparently have not considered, or acknowledged, according to a report by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “Too often, we have discussed the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs through the distorting lens of a simplistic ‘security versus privacy’ narrative,” said Danielle Kehl, policy analyst at the Open Technology Institute and primary author of the report. “But if you look closer, the more accurate story is that in the name of security, we’re trading away not only privacy, but also the U.S. tech economy, internet openness, America’s foreign policy interests and cybersecurity.” Over the last year, documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, have disclosed numerous NSA spy operations that have gone beyond what many considered acceptable surveillance activity. These included infecting the computers of network administrators working for a Belgian telecom in order to undermine the company’s routers and siphon mobile traffic; working with companies to install backdoors in their products or network infrastructure or to devise ways to undermine encryption; intercepting products that U.S. companies send to customers overseas to install spy equipment in them before they reach customers. The Foundation’s report, released today, outlines some of the collateral damage of NSA surveillance in several areas, including: Economic losses to US businesses due to lost sales and declining customer trust.
The deterioration of internet security as a result of the NSA stockpiling zero-day vulnerabilities, undermining encryption and installing backdoors in software and hardware products.
Undermining the government’s credibility and leadership on “internet freedom” and governance issues such as censorship.