Disturbing news regarding government surveillance of mobile devices en masse has permeated our news this year. In the wake of Edward Snowden's allegations, the public learned about cellular interceptors attached to fake cell towers. Popular Science and the CEO of CryptoPhone broke the news about these strange towers, which could be used "a variety of 'over-the-air' attacks become possible, from eavesdropping on calls and texts to pushing spyware to the device."
Fast forward a few months, and the Wall Street Journal publishes an article describing a secret government program that involves flying airplanes over the United States to collect massive amounts of cellular data. Sources familiar with the program explain that that this program was run by the U.S. Marshals Service program since 2007. These massive breaches of privacy shouldn't just matter to individual consumers - they can also impact companies as well. The use of dirt boxes, stingrays and other cellular interception devices could eventually impact the confidentiality of business critical information. Tech companies that come under scrutiny due to government surveillance can damage their reputations both domestically and abroad, getting caught in the crossfire of massive controversies.
Here are the three main reasons why business leaders should be concerned about government surveillance efforts:
Data security strategists will tell you that the fewer people who handle your data, the better. As more parties gain access to your data, the risk of accidental or intentional leaks increases. Business leaders have to wonder what happens to their data once it is scooped by a surveillance device. While the Wall Street Journal article indicates that excess data unrelated to criminal cases is dumped, it's hard to tell if data is removed in a secure or private manner. Also, if the government's data collection is breached, will your company's information be safe? It's possible that the U.S. government’s cellular snooping program could put the data of innocent individuals and organizations at risk.
2. Brand Reputation
When companies are revealed to have been complicit with authorities' and government agencies' snooping efforts, they can experience public lash back when the news hits the wires. For example, several telecommunications networks and technology companies were scrutinized after Edward Snowden released information about NSA data mining.
When clients are interested primarily in security, they might turn a wary eye toward your company, especially if you rely on products, services, or partnerships with larger corporations that were examined during the NSA controversy. Additionally, the public just has a more general distrust toward their Internet privacy. Government data surveillance revelations will have long lasting consequences online. According to a Harris Poll, behaviors such as money management and shopping online took a plunge in the wake of the NSA spying fiasco, with 26% who report a decrease in both purchases and banking.
3. Global Distrust
Ultimately, U.S. government snooping can take a significant toll on our overseas business interests. While no one organization is at fault, recurring news about data surveillance tactics can hang over U.S. companies like a black cloud. Some foreign governments have even revived an anti-surveillance tactic: reintroducing typewriters in offices to reduce the likelihood of data snooping. If government surveillance efforts continue to escalate, it's possible that international companies will become reluctant to enter agreements with businesses in the United States.
Companies like Apple are already cracking down on their privacy policies, refusing government access to their data in order to prioritize user privacy. Hopefully, other companies will follow their lead to protect data. Company leaders should keep a close eye on recent government data snooping developments, since these events can take an unprecedented toll on your company's brand image, relations abroad, and data security.