President Obama Talks Privacy, Big Data and the Internet

By Kimberlee Morrison 


The rancor over Internet security and the NSA has had a wide ranging impact. Tech companies like Google have promised to shore up their protocols to protect user data, and users all over the Internet have kept the the conversation going to ensure that it remains a high profile issue. Now the debate has reached the highest office in the land, and perhaps it’s a little overdue.

On January 17th, President Obama delivered a speech to the Justice Department about the current role of the government security apparatus, and how widespread Internet surveillance programs should work in the future. The President also noted that surveillance has become a lot easier with technological advances.

“The power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do. That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do,” he said.

The President went on to defend the work of the NSA as central to the defense of the nation. He warned against leaks like those by Edward Snowden saying they “shed more heat than light” and that they made the job of national security more difficult.

He also saw fit to single out corporations for their own mass-data programs: “Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes.”

The Direct Marketing Association, a lobbying organization, posted a response to the speech, stating that “limiting the responsible use of data by data-driven marketers would impact innovation, small businesses, jobs and economic growth.” The post also referenced a recent study that detailed the impact of big data on the economy. According to the study, the “data-driven marketing economy provided $156 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy in 2012 alone.”.

The President promised a great deal of reform from safeguarding the privacy of Americans to reining in the scope of the National Security Letters issued by the FBI. Providing increased transparency and protecting civil liberties online and off seems like a tall order when security is still a key part of the current national security plan.

In the long term, the proof will be in the pudding when it comes to this speech about creating impactful change. But after a year full of security concerns and privacy upheaval, maybe this year will be different when it comes to privacy.

Image credit: Intel Photos