NSA fixes a matter of trust

Reform of the NSA surveillance activities needs to focus on restoring the trust of U.S. citizens and on trading partners and allies, but it will take time.

I don’t think it matters where you fall on the issue of the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities that were revealed by Edward Snowden.

Whether you think the actions should be outlawed or should continue unfettered, the issue to me boils down to trust.

That’s the big part of the message that the large technology firms were trying to deliver to the White House this week. The warning from the likes of Cisco, IBM, AT&T and Verizon is that the fallout of the spying scandal will hurt sales of U.S. technologies and could undermine the fragile economic recovery.

Trust drives buying decisions. What company do you want do business with?

The same matter of trust drives diplomacy and relations with other governments. Who do you want to cooperate with on a whole host of issues, particularly security?

I’m not sure any reasonable person thinks there should be an outright ban on surveillance. Too many lives are at stake.

But we are headed toward some sort of reform that will try to put controls and accountability into place. The NSA and other intelligence agencies can’t just say, "We can’t tell you want we are doing, but trust us."

That kind of relationship has been destroyed. Now, we need to work on rebuilding trust with our trade and diplomatic and military partners, as well as restoring the faith of the American people.

Restoring the trust will not happen overnight; it will take time, and it will be measured by action, not rhetoric.

The one bright side of the Snowden scandal is that it has pushed the debate over how much surveillance is too much into the national consciousness. It is something we need to talk about.

Snowden probably smugly thinks of himself as some sort of hero because he ignited this debate, but I think he’s a coward and increasingly acts like a traitor.

I have to rant a little about Snowden because I keep feeling a lot of anger toward him.

While it is good we now know a lot about what the NSA has been doing, I think Snowden’s motives are more about ego and notoriety than anything close to what is right and wrong.

If he was driven by morality, he would never have run; he would have let himself be arrested and face trial here. He would get the opportunity to voice his moral objectives; instead, he runs to China and then Russia. Oh, those are two pillars of civil and human rights, aren't they?

Now, he tells the people of Brazil in an open letter that he is willing to help them investigate NSA spying in that country. To me, that’s awfully close to traitorous behavior.

Snowden is no hero in my book, and part of that is because I just don’t trust him.

And that brings us full circle back to the NSA. Trust needs to be the centerpiece of any reform effort, and that includes some checks and balances, some transparency and a lot of accountability.

We need to watch the watchers.