October 08,2014

Press Contact:

Keith Chu: 202-224-3789

Wyden Remarks on Ending Mass Surveillance to Boost Digital Economy

As Prepared for Delivery

Silicon Valley, like the Silicon Forest in my home state of Oregon, is the launching pad of the digital economy.

In the digital economy, the American Brand represents innovation, open communication, economic opportunity, and American values. 

Except when it doesn't. 

It is clear that the global community of Internet users doesn’t like being caught up in the U.S. surveillance dragnet any more than Americans do. They embrace American products and services, but they don’t like American technology being turned against them in a way that does not demonstrably increase anyone’s security.

Cloud computing is an American advantage. U.S.-based cloud service providers are global leaders, transforming the way information is shared and managed, and the way that software and digital services are provided across the world. But one study estimated that surveillance-related consumer concerns could cost U.S. cloud service providers up to one fifth of their foreign market share. 

The European Commission Vice President for Digital Affairs Neelie Kroes said, "If European cloud customers cannot trust the United States government, then maybe they won't trust U.S. cloud providers either.... And if I am right, then there are multi-billion euro consequences for American companies."

This is going to cost jobs. Good-paying American jobs, and I know students in this room, students in Oregon and around the country care a lot about that. 

In 2011 on the floor of the United States Senate, I warned that people were going to be stunned and angry when they found out how the U.S. government has been secretly applying its surveillance authority.  And it turned out I was right about that. 

On top of this understandable reaction from ordinary consumers, though, foreign governments are piling on.  They are talking about building closed national networks, which may help local companies, but will fail to protect privacy or security.  For example, in Germany, German Chancellor Merkel indicated that she will “discuss which European providers we have who offer security for our citizens … so that you don’t have to go across the Atlantic with emails and other things...”  A good opportunity for Deutsche Telekom, but not the right solution for anyone else.

In Brazil, President Rousseff said “there is a serious problem of storage databases abroad.  That certain situation we will no longer accept.”  Her government pushed a bill to require U.S. companies to build data centers in Brazil, and it is reportedly looking to substitute Microsoft Outlook with a local option. 

When I was in China this summer, Chinese officials told me point blank that the cybertheft of U.S. trade secrets for the benefit of Chinese companies is no different than the surveillance carried out by the US government.  Suffice it to say I spent some time arguing with them on this topic. 

In the past, when governments have tried to put up digital trade barriers to discriminate against US companies, global consumers have pushed back.  The question before us is, are these consumers going to keep demanding access to U.S. services and an open Internet?  Or are recklessly broad surveillance policies undermining America’s ability to push back against countries that engage in economic foul play?

In my view, it is clear that U.S. policy is out of whack.

I’ve spent 13 years overseeing U.S. intelligence practices as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and prior to last year, I never once heard a U.S. official even talk about the potential impact of mass surveillance on the digital economy. 

When the actions of a foreign government threaten red-white-and-blue jobs, Washington gets up at arms. But, even today, almost no one in Washington is talking about how overly broad surveillance is hurting the US economy. Today is one of first times Congress has focused squarely on the economic impact of government spying.  As the chair of the Senate committee responsible for international trade, it’s my job to be sure there is action, not apathy, when it comes to preserving opportunities for American products in global markets.  

The U.S. government has a responsibility to protect its citizens. There are very real threats to America in this world, as the headlines about ISIL remind us. America’s intelligence agencies are made up of overwhelmingly dedicated men and women who make enormous sacrifices to protect our country and our allies. No one at this table wants to deprive U.S. intelligence agencies of tools that actually make the world safer.

But it is now painfully apparent that dragnet surveillance conflicts with core American values and does not actually make anyone any safer.  The NSA ran an expensive and invasive bulk email records collection program for years, and it turned out to be worthless.  Its bulk phone records collection program is still up and running right now, even though the President’s own surveillance review group has indicated that it is not necessary or effective. 

Let me be clear: It is time to end the digital dragnet, which harms American liberty and the American economy without making the country safer.  The US government should stop requiring American companies’ to participate in the suspicionless collection of their customers’ data, and begin the process of rebuilding trust both at home and abroad. 

The United States -- here in Silicon Valley, up in the Silicon Forest of the State of Oregon that I am so proud to represent, and in tech campuses and garage start-ups across the country -- has the best technologies and the best ideas to drive high-tech innovation.  It is policy malpractice to squander that capital for no clear security gain.

As Chairman of the Finance Committee, I am going to ensure that there is a national dialogue about the long-term consequences of the surveillance practices that are impeding the development of sensible global open Internet rules and eroding the American Brand.

That conversation starts here.