Google to NSA: You'll have to take our data the hard way

The cloud industry is turning its focus away from blocking criminal hackers to blocking systematic government snooping

According to the Washington Post, "Google is racing to encrypt the torrents of information that flow among its data centers around the world in a bid to thwart snooping by the NSA and the intelligence agencies of foreign governments." A series of revelations by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden shows that the United States, the United Kingdom, and perhaps other governments routinely spy on a broad range of Internet services, not in the targeted ways most people were led to believe.

With this response, Google sends the message that it won't make it easy for governments to quietly conduct mass-spying efforts, but instead will force the government to explicitly acknowledge its spying, such as through court orders. This also indicates that Google, like other cloud computing providers, views the NSA scandal as a potential market killer. They are all in damage control mode, pushing out new privacy technology aimed at protecting data.

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However, most experts understand that encryption is not a cure-all for data security. "Encrypting information flowing among data centers will not make it impossible for intelligence agencies to snoop on individual users of Google services, nor will it have any effect on legal requirements that the company comply with court orders or valid national security requests for data," the Washington Post story notes. "However, we do know that widespread use of encryption technology makes mass surveillance more difficult -- whether conducted by governments or other sophisticated hackers."

In other words, if Google and others apply greater security measures -- particularly if they develop ones not surreptitiously weakened by the government, which has happened for years, according to Snowden -- the government will move on if the data is too hard or impossible to access, or get a court order to obtain the keys from the data owner. If that occurs, at least the owner of the data will receive a legal heads-up.

As the implications of the NSA spying scandal continue to sink in, more cloud providers will seek ways to keep existing customers and recruit new ones by offering better and more secure cloud-based platforms. Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and others are moving in the same direction as Google. You can count on more encryption and security services. Indeed, this could spawn another wave of innovation, with startups focused on keeping your data away from the government, more so than away from hackers.

This article, "Google to NSA: You'll have to take our data the hard way," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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