Highlights from Sen. Wyden’s roundtable discussion with tech leaders

Adele Bloch, Author

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At a Senate Finance Committee Chairman’s roundtable held yesterday in the Palo Alto High School Big Gym, United States Sen. Ron Wyden and five tech leaders examined how consumer and foreign government responses to U.S. mass surveillance programs are challenging U.S. innovation and global competitiveness. Following the slideshow are excerpts from each panel member’s contribution to the discussion.

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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden

“People from all over the country do not want America’s political system to fritter away [all of the] hard-earned opportunities for foreign competitors [and] high wage industries. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’m here to tell you that I will not let that happen.”

“Make no mistake, America’s intelligence [agencies] are made up of thousands of overwhelmingly dedicated men and women who make enormous sacrifices to protect this nation. No one that I know in the senate or at this table wants to deprive our intelligence agencies of the tools that will actually make the world safer. But it’s now clear that dragnet surveillance conflicts with core American values and doesn’t make us safer.

“The government ought to stop requiring American companies to participate in this suspicion-less collection of customers data and begin the process of rebuilding trust at home.”

Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Microsoft Brad Smith

“Just as people would not put their money in a bank they don’t trust, they will be reluctant to put their information in a data center or in a phone they don’t trust.”

“When trust is shattered, it needs to be rebuilt.”

“[We need] to go back to the fundamental personal rights that are at stake. I think all of us stand for a straightforward proposition: If you’re a consumer or a company, you own your email, your text messages, your photos and all the content that you create. Even when you put your content in our data centers or the devices that we make, you still own it. You are entitled to the legal protection under our Constitution and our laws, and we will not rebuild trust until our own government recognizes that straightforward principle.”

Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt

“We want to thank you [Sen. Wyden] for being a phenomenal champion for technology [and] for jobs. And I think, and we probably all think, that you are a true patriot.”

“Thank goodness that you [Sen. Wyden] led the fight against bulk surveillance, but things are getting worse.”

“I think the simplest outcome is that we’re going to end up breaking the Internet. What’s going to happen is the government will … eventually say, ‘We want our own Internet in our own country because we want it to work our way. We don’t want the NSA and other people in it.’ The cost of that is huge, in terms of knowledge, discovery, science, growth and jobs.”

General Counsel of Facebook Colin Stretch

“One of the biggest challenges we’re confronting as an industry is the inability for most of the world’s population to access the Internet. … Eighty percent of the people without Internet access around the world are within range of a cell tower. The reason they do not have Internet access is because it costs too much. One of the big challenges for us as an industry is to bring technology to address that problem, to get the rest of the world. Data localization takes us in exactly the wrong direction, simply because it costs too much money.”

“From our perspective, the most profoundly disturbing [disclosures] was … hacking, the sort of things we do see from some other countries that are involved with state-sponsored espionage. That put the relationship between the industry and the U.S. government on a slightly different footing. … What those disclosures [hacking] brought to light was there was this effort outside of what we all thought of as the appropriate legal process to attain user data. … It placed renewed focus on our need to protect ourselves from these sorts of unauthorized overseas attacks.”

General Counsel of Dropbox Ramsey Homsany

“We need to be committed to providing good security and encryption for our users.”

“Encryption is a critically important technology for everything we do and everything that happens on the Internet. Why would we start to hamper with it … rather than wanting to develop great encryption and apply it so that consumers can have a lot of trust and faith in the fact that what they do store online is safe? There are many other ways for the government to get data when they’re doing investigations … which has been the legal norm for hundreds of years.”

Partner of Greylock Partners John Lilly

“Most people want to follow the law. Most people want to stay safe … but [there’s] this bifurcation of citizenry and law enforcement and government, and we’re getting a drumbeat of that, and that’s increasingly the society we do not want.”