[German Chancellor Angela Merkel]
As the US battles Germany on the pitch in the World Cup, there’s another skirmish going on between the two countries that has potentially massive implications on the NSA and the telecommunications industry.
Germany today announced that it will allow its contract with Verizon, one of the companies implicated by the National Security Agency programs leaked by Edward Snowden, to run out in 2015. The announcement says that the decision not to renew the contract was caused by malware concerns, security problems, and the fact that it doesn’t appreciate the NSA’s efforts to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders.
Many observers have feared this might happen since the NSA programs were revealed last June. Tech executives warned Obama that their businesses might suffer because of the programs and their inability to discuss them. Their companies are finding it more difficult to pitch their products to people in other countries while analysts believe that the “dream is over” and that “the era of US tech dominance in everything from servers to routers to the cloud is facing a crisis of confidence.” Countries like Brazil are threatening to just create their own Internet.
Box CEO Aaron Levie summarized the tech industry’s concerns about NSA spying during the first Southland conference earlier this month — even though he quipped that most terrorists aren’t discovered for their activities in enterprise solutions:
We are now in a global environment where fundamentally you have a business in the US who has its manufacturing in China, its advertising agency in London, and its customer in Germany. If you can’t have an open Internet to connect all of that, you’re going to dramatically halt the progress of the economy.
Verizon has provided Internet services to various departments of the German government for several years — losing this contract shows that its compliance with the NSA’s requests for data could have serious repercussions for its business. It might have a lock on the United States market, but other countries can elect to work with their own solutions if they want to access the Internet without having to give the NSA access to all of their activities. So far as responses to Snowden’s disclosures go, this is perhaps the first that Verizon has a significant financial reason to care about.
Maybe this will convince the government to rein in the NSA — After all, Verizon and the telecom industry spend millions of dollars on lobbying every year. Now that their interests are being threatened more than they have been in the past, perhaps some of that lobbying will go towards defending someone’s right not to have their digital lives sifted through like so many bits and bytes. It’s not quite the idealistic reform that privacy advocates want, but the almighty dollar has long held sway where ideals are worthless. Let’s hope some good can come from Verizon’s loss.