Silicon Valley Tied To NSA Surveillance Leaks

Jun 10, 2013
Originally published on June 11, 2013 8:11 am
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.


CORNISH: People in the tech world are buzzing over the revelations of massive NSA data gathering, and the tech industry appears to be deeply involved. The leaked documents say that some of the biggest names, Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft have assisted in NSA surveillance.

And as NPR's Richard Gonzales found today at a coffee shop in San Francisco, that's making some tech workers uneasy.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: The Creamery at Fourth and Townsend is a coffeehouse and cultural crossroads in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood commonly known as SoMa.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Cappuccino for here on the bar.

GONZALES: Tech workers cram in here before hitting work and then hustle off to one of an untold number of high-tech startup companies.

GREG PROSI: It's incredible. I heard there's 400 startups in SoMa. That is a huge number in a pretty small area.

GONZALES: We're talking with Greg Prosi. He's a director at AOL Video, the largest video syndication business outside of YouTube. But his avocation is spycraft.

PROSI: My father turned me on to John Le Carre and some of the old spy novels when I was a young boy and just became fascinated with them.

GONZALES: You can see where this is going. Prosi says he's thought a lot about spying and software and privacy.

PROSI: Communications that I send to my family or friends is private. And I think most Americans think that. You think that when you picked up the telephone or you sent a letter through the U.S. mail that that wasn't being looked at. And I think it's true today.

GONZALES: Ask him about the NSA surveillance and he shakes his head.

PROSI: And even if they're doing it in aggregate and they're doing semantic matching technology and looking at keywords, still, I think that's - for most of us believe that that's wrong and illegal. And it should be illegal.

GONZALES: Prosi says its time for a public discussion about privacy in an age when people are so willing to share personal information on the Internet and that government has the tools to overreach. Until then, he says...

PROSI: I think my recommendation to most people is don't put your data out there.


GONZALES: At another table, Kevin Gallenstein, an engineer in the defense industry, is hanging out with a group of high school buddies. They say they've been talking about the NSA all weekend. And Gallenstein says he thinks the government has ways to get any information it wants. In some cases, that's necessary, but he says he's still ambivalent.

KEVIN GALLENSTEIN: You know, I think in the interest of the American people for defense-related things, it's a good thing. But everyday people, I don't think it's the function of the government to do that.

GONZALES: His buddy, Narek Asadorian, is a tech consultant for a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. He's not convinced that government surveillance, like the NSA program, works. And he points at the Boston Marathon bombing as an example.

NAREK ASADORIAN: The Tsarnaev brothers were probably using the Internet and Facebook and email and text messages. So it might be crossing the line when all this, you know, information is being taken in, but the actual terrorism isn't being stopped. So if there's no outcome, then why are we doing it? Or is this being done correctly?

GONZALES: Like most of the people picking up coffee in San Francisco this morning, Asadorian and his friends haven't quite figured out where to draw the line between national security and a citizen's expectation of privacy. But there's little doubt the current NSA revelations are stoking a debate. Richard Gonzalez, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.