On Wednesday, April 8, Golden Frog president Sunday Yokubaitis and public affairs director Andy MacFarlane will spend the day in Washington DC meeting with various legislators and government officials to discuss the importance of legislation that protects online privacy. We’ll update this blog post throughout the day with details of their efforts as they work to further discussions with legislators about:
- Protecting Americans’ right to use encryption services
- Prohibiting government-mandated backdoors into U.S. tech companies
- Curbing NSA surveillance and limiting the reauthorization of the Patriot Act
- Updating ECPA for the modern era
Meeting with Ari M. Schwartz, Senior Director for Cybersecurity on the United States National Security Council Staff at the White House
Location: Eisenhower Building
We met with Mr. Schwartz to talk about the recent requests from government agencies for backdoors into encryption services. Mr. Schwartz expressed concern over FBI director James Comey’s position that backdoors are necessary for his agency to best do their job. We explained that backdoors are inherently insecure, and their presence is a negative for the digital economy because they create distrust among both domestic and international companies that want to work America’s Internet companies.
Sunday mentioned a recent report by the R Institute estimated the NSA disclosures and requests for backdoors have cost the American economy somewhere between $35-180 billion. Mr. Schwartz said that the Council of Economic Advisors has estimated the economic loss as ZERO. So, while there may be some disagreement among those in DC, we noted that we’ve seen European companies position their cloud offerings as more private and more secure than competitive U.S. companies. Sunday also told him that we talk to privacy-conscious people around the world everyday and we are aware of many non-American consumers that don’t want to buy American online services due to erosion of trust.
Finally, we also discussed our concern about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s push for legislation to exempt liablity for private companies that VOLUNTARILY share data with the government and other companies for purposes of cybersecurity. This is data that is shared without a subpoena or warrant. Mr. Schwartz said that scope and transparency are critical so that everyone can understand exactly how much data is being shared, and with whom.
(Sunday Yokubaitis at the Eisenhower building, note the West Wing in the background)
R Street Institute Event Panel Discussion – The Conservative Case for Surveillance Reform
Location: Rayburn House Office Building
Sunday Yokubaitis has been invited to be a panelist on this discussion about curbing NSA Surveillance Reform, hosted by the R Street Institute. With key sections of the Patriot Act set to expire May 31, Congress must address the constitutionality and effectiveness of the NSA’s mass-surveillance programs and reevaluate the need for this massive intrusion into the personal lives of ordinary Americans.
During the event, Sunday told the audience of congressional staffers the NSA’s massive surveillance programs are significantly hurting the United States economy. He said news of these programs has eroded the global trust of United States Internet companies, and made many organizations reluctant of doing business with them. He said, “After the NSA revelations, you could hear the giant sucking sound of servers leaving the USA.” He also noted that companies in Europe have taken advantage of this mistrust, and currently position themselves as a more secure alternative to U.S. Internet companies – and that message is resonating with customers. He noted that Golden Frog is incorporated in Switzerland because the country has a long history of respecting privacy and has established a legal framework to protect it. Many Golden Frog customers simply don’t trust their data with USA companies.
To much fanfare, Sunday also said, ” the right to use encryption services is the 2nd Amendment for the Internet.” The audience seems to appreciate the analogy as encryption is a tactic to protect yourself and your property.
He, along with other panelists criticized the FBI’s request for backdoors into encryption as an “awful” idea that makes the FBI “sound insane.” Sunday said that doing encryption correctly is hard enough without the government asking for intentional vulnerabilities and warned that backdoors would make USA companies targets of all kinds of foreign and domestic hackers.
Finally, Sunday compared the government surveillance programs of China and Germany with the United States. He left the room with this thought, “Do we want to be more like China, or do we want to be more like Germany?”
(Sunday Yokubaitis addressing the audience at the R Street panel)
Later this afternoon, we’ll meet with the offices of a couple presidential candidates. Stay tuned…
Meeting with Staffers for Senator Ted Cruz
Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building
When we last met with Senator Cruz, it was in Austin, Texas last November when he unveiled his “Don’t mess with Internet” agenda. Much has changed since that day, most notably the passing of new FCC Open Internet rules. We discussed the ongoing battle for the Internet and get the feeling the Senator will side with fellow Republicans who would like to see Congress draft legislation to limit the FCC’s power.
On a more positive note, the Senator has generally been in favor of online privacy protections. He is against government-mandated backdoors and would support legislation to update ECPA.
Meeting with Staffers for Senator Rand Paul
Location: Russell Senate Office Building
After meeting with the Cruz staff, we headed to the offices of another Republican presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul. Much of the meeting focused on NSA reform. Yesterday, Senator Paul announced that he would immediately end NSA mass surveillance if elected president. That’s a bold campaign pledge and obviously one where the devil lies in the details. So, we were pleased to learn the Senator’s office is open to working with us on amending and drafting NSA reform legislation.