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Google and the NSA Communicated: Are You Surprised?

Released emails between Eric Schmidt and Keith Alexander fuel the outrage machine, which is a bad sign for the fight against surveillance.
Photo by Sgt. Aaron Hostutler

A brief note on the storm in a teacup brewing this week over FOIA obtained 2011 emails between Google CEO Eric Schmidt and then-NSA director Keith Alexander, which revealed that the two had been in discourse: Duh.

These emails reveal nothing more than that the NSA and Google executives met to discuss cyber policies. The idea that a tech super giant and the NSA would not be in conversation is absurd — the exchanges reveal nothing about the more nefarious NSA-Google coordination facilitating our totalized surveillance state.


When Schmidt said last year that "Google has nothing to hide" in response to early revelations about NSA surveillance of Google-hosted communications, there was undoubtedly more than a dose of disingenuousness in his comment. But (and here's the rub) Google has long marched in goose-step with the state surveillance apparatus. In 2009 Schmidt famously said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

This enabling attitude is the very basis of mass surveillance — and, as I've written in the past, it displays a dangerous and foolish understanding of transparency and privacy. There is a good reason for many Americans, especially disenfranchised communities, to have something to hide. Privacy is a line of defense against conformity and repression.

It’s somewhat reassuring that released emails between the NSA and Google prompt public and media distrust, even if the emails in questions are devoid of significant revelation. However, public shock at the fact of this correspondence reflects a troubling lack of understanding about the nexus of power between tech corporations and the government. We should be beyond shock at these connections at this point.

Take it as read: Silicon Valley and the government are both pillars supporting a surveillance state. Continued outrage at this fact is well and good, but blanket shock without nuanced appreciation of these entrenched corporate-government links does nothing to help us fight back as surveilled subjects.

Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter: @natashalennard

Photo via Wikimedia Commons