Box's Aaron Levie: The NSA not only threatens privacy -- It threatens the global economy

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on June 11, 2014

From The News Desk

The NSA leaks have made for some of Southland’s biggest news, from Al Gore saying he doesn’t think Snowden is a traitor to Aaron Levie today calling on the US to understand how such spying could impact the global economy.

Levie and Sarah Lacy chatted about the longer term implications of the “surveillance Internet” and hows it’s impacting enterprise companies with international clients like Box. Levie was quick to point out that the NSA spying wasn’t directed exclusively to cloud technology. “The interesting thing on the NSA stuff was they didn’t discriminate in anyway. They went after everything,” Levie says. “There were even rumors that they were in literally the CISCO networking gear.”

After Lacy pointed out that it’s far easier to do such surveillance in the cloud, Levie switched his defense tactics, arguing that the outcry over the surveillance ultimately didn’t match the reality in terms of its impact on companies like Box. “It wasn’t really aimed at the enterprise market,” Levie says. “The kinds of things the NSA was doing with things like PRISM are more focused on consumer technologies, where you will have communication tools — Gmail and Skype, etcetera. Not really your CRM system. Not a lot of terrorist activity happening with sales records.”

But he admitted that perception matters for business.  “The entire point of the Internet is that it’s a global platform,” Levie says. As Lacy pointed out earlier, companies like Cisco lost business because international companies shied away from potential NSA conflicts. As Pando has covered, a cloud hosting report found that 25 percent of British and Canadian businesses out of 300 surveyed are moving their data outside the U.S. because of security concerns.

Levie explained that his big challenge is to get governments, both at home and abroad, to understand the value in having the Internet remain an open medium. The national security issues need to be balanced with the economic issues, because there are potentially damaging, long-term financial implications of having a nationalized, surveillance-oriented Internet.

“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,” Levie says. “If you can’t have an open Internet to connect all of that, you’re going to dramatically halt the progress of the economy.”