Google’s Eric Schmidt: NSA spying ‘outrageous’Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt (AFP Photo / Jung Yeon-Je)
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt says recent revelations regarding the National Security Agency’s alleged eavesdropping operations are “outrageous” and perhaps even illegal.
Schmidt was weighing in with reporters at the Wall Street Journal this week when he unleashed on the NSA over reports that the United States intelligence-gathering agency infiltrated communication links between data centers operated by Google, as well as others across the world owned by competing search engine company Yahoo.
Days earlier, the Washington Post published leaked documentation credited to intelligence contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden in which it was alleged that the NSA tapped into unencrypted data streams between those centers and intercepted the private data for millions of customers.
"It's really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that's true,” the Journal quoted Schmidt, who has served as the Silicon Valley company’s chairman for over a decade.
“The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people's privacy, it's not OK," Schmidt said. "The Snowden revelations have assisted us in understanding that it's perfectly possible that there are more revelations to come."
Since June, major media outlets around the globe have published classified NSA documents attributed to Mr. Snowden which have in turn alerted the world to vast spy programs conducted by the US government and essentially impacting most of the world. And although previous documentation suggested that the NSA had in some instances been collecting data on Google’s networks using an operation named PRISM, the latest leaks lend credence to the accusation that communications passed from corporate-owned data center to data center had been compromised due to yet another NSA surveillance program.
Last week, the Post said a project called MUSCULAR that was operated by the NSA in conjunction with Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, secretly broke into the links between Google and Yahoo data centers, collecting millions of new records everyday unbeknownst to even those companies. Google had only recently begun encrypting those links, the Post added, and Yahoo has suggested they show no sign of initiating encryption. Meanwhile, though, Twitter announced plans to encrypt its messages, and other companies have spawned in the wake of the NSA scandal with seemingly the sole intention of preventing government spying.
Upon news of the MUSCULAR program, Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond told the Post that the company had “long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping” and said the revelation “underscores the need for urgent reform.”
When asked if the NSA tapped into the data centers during an event on Wednesday last week, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said, "Not to my knowledge."
But while Google’s Schmidt said he was understanding in that the US government may conduct some operations as counterterrorism or intelligence-gathering operations, the latest revelations — if true — unnecessarily jeopardized the privacy of any innocent person.
"There clearly are cases where evil people exist, but you don't have to violate the privacy of every single citizen of America to find them," he told the paper, adding that Google had filed complaints against the NSA, President Barack Obama and members of Congress.
Of course, Schmidt himself hasn’t always praised the need for total online privacy . In 2009, he infamously told CNBC, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.”