A letter to Washington.
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I recently attended the TED2014 conference, where I had occasion to listen to talks by Edward Snowden and NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett.
I’m a longtime member of the TED community– it’s my 10th year attending. I’m a technologist with a background in applied math and neuroscience, currently leading a team working on Machine Intelligence at Google. In this letter I’m speaking for myself, not for my employer.
I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you my thoughts on the issues around Edward Snowden’s disclosures.
The disclosures– and the debate they launched– have revitalized democratic oversight. President Obama himself has said: “I welcome this debate. And I think it’s healthy for our democracy.”
The President is right. The debate has been healthy for our democracy and for democracies around the world. Before the disclosures, all three branches of the government had approved these programs in the dark. Now, all three branches of government are engaged in a historic re-evaluation of the NSA’s surveillance practices. And President Obama has agreed to end the mass tracking of Americans’ phone calls.
As a senior leader in information technology (prior to Google I was a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft working on online services), I have been especially troubled by what I have learned about the NSA’s activities– and I am grateful to Edward Snowden for working with journalists to educate the public about them. The NSA’s dragnet surveillance activities, and its exploitation of vulnerabilities in communications networks, have undermined our cybersecurity and harmed our business– especially overseas. We are now collectively perceived as having abused our stewardship of much of the world’s cloud computing and communications technology.
The revelations have been shocking, and I can only wish they had come out sooner, to allow for an earlier course correction. I believe that showing leniency to Edward Snowden would send a powerful message to the world that the US takes these concerns seriously– and is serious about reform.
Blaise Aguera y Arcas