Now Google's Chairman Thinks the NSA’s Spying Is “Outrageous”

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 4 2013 1:09 PM

Eric Schmidt Calls NSA Spying “Outrageous” ... if Google Was a Target

Eric Schmidt NSA spying
Eric Schmidt seems a lot more concerned about the NSA's spying program in the wake of reports that it secretly targeted Google's data centers.

Photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images

We knew Google wouldn’t be pleased by that smiley face some NSA cyberspook drew on a graphic showing how the agency planned to infiltrate its data centers.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

On cue, executive chairman Eric Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal this weekend that the spying program unmasked last week in the Washington Post is “outrageous” and potentially illegal if the allegations are accurate. The full, somewhat grammatically challenged quote:

It’s really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that’s true. 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. The Snowden revelations have assisted us in understanding that it’s perfectly possible that there are more revelations to come.
Advertisement

The scale of NSA’s collection of Americans’ cellphone records amounts to “bad public policy,” Schmidt added. “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.”

Schmidt has a point here, but it’s undermined by his timing. It’s possible I missed something, but I don’t recall Schmidt speaking out so vehemently against NSA overreach before the Post reported that Google was among its covert targets. Yes, Google joined other big tech companies in politely lobbying for greater transparency. But it wasn’t until things got personal that Schmidt went to the press and started throwing around words like “outrageous,” “illegal,” and “bad public policy.”

It’s understandable that Schmidt and Google would feel betrayed here. They agreed to hand over limited amounts of user data to the NSA, yet if the allegations are true, the NSA nevertheless secretly grabbed far more behind Google’s back.

At the same time, this serves as a reminder of the essential subjectivity of Google’s definition of “evil.” Schmidt likes to present himself as an objective arbiter of what’s right and wrong when it comes to people’s online privacy. Yet he tends to see Google’s own actions through a decidedly more charitable lens than the one through which he views the actions of Google’s rivals—or, it seems, of government agencies that double-cross Google.

Disclosure: Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State, and Eric Schmidt is chair of the New America Foundation's board. 

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The Only Good Thing That Happened at Today’s Soul-Crushing U.N. Climate Talks

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?