Obama should have talked about NSA in address, say trade groups

Tech trade groups say president's glossing over NSA could be troublesome for U.S. companies.

Technology trade groups faulted President Obama for not using his State of the Union address Tuesday night to address domestic and international concerns over the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.

The president's decision not to tackle the issue in any great detail could cost U.S. Internet companies billions of dollars in Europe and other markets, they contended.

In an address that lasted slightly more than 65 minutes, Obama mentioned surveillance and intelligence reform just once and made no mention of the NSA's controversial domestic data collection programs at all.

The president noted that he would continue to work with Congress to reform the nation's surveillance programs but offered no details on the reforms or when they would happen.

"Working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs -- because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated," the president said.

Obama's perfunctory treatment of the topic is disappointing said Christian Dawson, co-founder and chairman of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition), a group representing several technology companies, including Google and Dell.

With regard to NSA surveillance, "it is imperative that we strike the appropriate balance between privacy and security," Dawson said in a statement after the president's speech. "Without actions that include meaningful reforms to both bulk surveillance, and the indiscriminate use of National Security Letters, all together such a balance is unlikely to be achieved."

Concerns over the NSA bulk data collection programs have a strong economic impact on U.S. companies. "At the same time, countries like Germany, Switzerland and Brazil are actively seeking to cut ties with U.S. web hosts, insisting that data will be better protected on domestic servers," Dawson said.

Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, noted that the president missed an opportunity to clear the air on surveillance issues that were not addressed in a speech on NSA reform the president made recently.

In that address, Obama had noted that he would prohibit the NSA from collecting or storing phone metadata records on U.S. residents and would require the agency to obtain court approval to search through the records.

Chief among the unaddressed issues is how the government plans to tackle the NSA's efforts to introduce vulnerabilities in cryptographic standards and commercial products to enable easier snooping, Castro said in a statement.

"As long as these questions go unanswered, U.S. technology companies will face a disadvantage in global markets and lose market share to foreign competitors," Castro said. "The president has declared that 2014 should be a year of action. He does not need to wait for Congress to affirm clearly and unequivocally that the policy of the United States is to strengthen, not weaken, cybersecurity," he said.

This article, Obama should have talked about NSA in address, say trade groups, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Obama should have talked about NSA in address, say trade groups" was originally published by Computerworld.

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