Policy: National Security

Silicon Valley built the surveillance state

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Science and Technology,Michael Barone,Politics Digest,Homeland Security,California,National Security,Surveillance

That’s the title of a very interesting article by Michael Hirsch in The Daily Beast/Newsweek. The don’t-be-evil folks at Google and the kids at Facebook won’t like it, since they don’t like to be associated with the National Security Agency surveillance programs. But they’re all in the Big Data business and Hirsch makes a persuasive case that Silicon Valley rather than the government took the technological lead.

That hasn’t always been the case. Hirsch quotes General Michael Hayden, the longest serving director at NSA (1998-2007) who points out that in its early days NSA in the 1940s and 1950s took the technological lead. Government innovation used to preced innovation in the private sector. I believe this was the case generally at that time, with the foremost example being the Manhattan Project–hugely expensive and hugely secret–which developed nuclear weapons during World War II. Only government seemed to have the resources to do such research and, with an urgent need to prevail in that war and in the Cold War that followed, the will.

But in recent decades the private sector, not government, has been the innovator. Moore’s law says that computer power doubles in 18 months; government procurement policies take a lot longer than that. So it made sense for NSA to follow the lead and engage the services of private sector firms. Government could build the atomic bomb (with private firms doing some of the work) but it evidently can’t develop the capacity to process Big Data by itself.

 

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