Meet the spooky tech companies getting rich by making NSA surveillance possible


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From my experience in college, I would say engineers are on the whole an apolitical bunch. Not every single one, of course, but a large majority would rather concern themselves with how than why. The funny part is they also tend to bristle at being managed by big-picture types. So you don’t even need a sinister conspiracy to achieve these results. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.


And to piggy-back on this, my experience has been that engineers thrive on challenges, and they tend not to concern themselves with whether the technical challenge being presented has any sort of “moral” component. In fact, they also tend to get a little thrill about accomplishing something that might just be a wee bit underhanded, as it’s sort of a “putting one over” on others, in an alpha-geek sort of way.

Until you start shaming the engineers and developers who work inside these “spooky tech companies”, you really aren’t going to make much of a difference. It’s the young talent, after all, that enables these companies to do what they do.

That requires the assumption that the engineers put significant weight to the opinion of those who don’t know what end of the soldering iron is hot before touching it. Some, namely middle managers and philosophers, even afterwards.

Social pressures work only when there are strong-enough social bonds to be affected. If the primary bonds are within the engineer group, the pressures from the out-group will not have much effect other than increasing the cohesiveness of the in-group.

I would see a better change of success in providing another form of challenge to the other engineers; technical countermeasures. It is fun, it is a challenge, it is us-vs-them fight, and if opensourced it can have a quite wide impact. One man can do a lot in this field, more than a whole city of moralizing outsiders.

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I’ve now worked for a decent number of companies which regularly receive requests from governments for transaction and customer data. All in the financial space, not the telco/datacoms space but nonetheless, even outside the US, these sorts of requests carry the force of an lawful NDA with them. These are all companies which have legal and compliance departments which are well staffed but the jobs of legal and compliance is not to determine when to say “no” to the government agencies it is to ensure that what the company does is within the law.

I get the concept that people feel outraged about this, but as usual I find the outrage a bit manufactured and not fully thought out. Were telco/datacoms companies to hire more lawyers, you can bet they won’t be eating the costs so here comes yet another bit of internet outrage, no?

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No. “Passing along the cost” is almost never true, economically, although it is a very convincing argument.

As for the rest of that paragraph, it’s very unclear if you’re suggesting a special platoon of lawyers just to decide when it’s time for civil disobedience? Because that will never happen - but the reason you suggest is the absolute last reason.

It will never happen because civil disobedience, by definition, is a challenge to power and privilege. Corporations are the physical manifestation of power and privilege. So no, it’s not going to happen.

EDIT: I misunderstood - I think you’re saying that the pennies-per-customer that make up a lawyer’s salary are too high a price to pay for ethics of any kind. That point is unclear because it is constructed out of so many falsehoods.

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GIS result for “spooky tech”

I wasn’t saying anything about the cost of ethics or civil disobedience. Simply, at face value, the jobs of people in legal and compliance and the departments themselves are about complying with the law not deciding if the law is right or wrong.

Nor in fact was I saying anything about physical manifestations of power. A “corporation” can just as easily be Neighborhood Plumbers, Inc as Monilith LLC. In either case when more staff is needed to comply with red tape, at some point that extra cost will be passed on to the customer.

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