Revelations about the National Security Agency's monitoring of online communications have damaged the U.S. economy so badly that Americans should "be in the street with pitchforks," according to a senator leading the effort to reform federal surveillance laws.
Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, told a day-long conference at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, that U.S. companies trying to do business in the global technology and communications market are hurting because of the revelations that American Internet giants like Microsoft, Google and Facebook have been under court order to cooperate with the NSA to monitor Web traffic.
"If a foreign enemy was doing this much damage to the economy, people would be in the streets with pitchforks," Mr. Wyden said.
A recent report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit, public policy think tank, estimated that the U.S. cloud computing industry alone stands to lose up to $35 billion over the next three years as a result of the revelations — and its impact on the reputation and customer relations of U.S. firms.
American firms weren't just given that reputation, "they won it over the years with good customer practices" only to see it swept away by "this overly broad surveillance," Mr. Wyden said.
Analysts say that a particular problem is that many overseas customers now understand that the U.S. Constitution offers them no protection from NSA eavesdropping.
"Companies like Google and Facebook get more than half their revenue from outside the United States," says Alan B. Davidson, who was head of public policy for Google Inc. for seven years until 2012. "It's a really big problem."
Mr. Davidson, now a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicts the NSA revelations will "drive the traffic away" from U.S. companies.
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