Eric Schmidt: PATRIOT Means You Have No Privacy

When Gawker posted a clip of Eric Schmidt telling Maria Bartiromo that you shouldn’t do anything you want to keep private…

I think judgment matters. If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines — including Google — do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.

… Gawker focused on the hypocrisy of Schmidt making such a statement.

That’s what the Google CEO told Maria Bartiromo during CNBC’s big Google special last night, an extraordinary pronouncement for such a secretive guy.

The generous explanation for Schmidt’s statement is that he’s revolutionized his thinking since 2005, when he blacklisted CNET for publishing info about him gleaned from Google searches, including salary, neighborhood, hobbies and political donations.

But I’m rather more interested in Schmidt’s focus on the PATRIOT Act:

we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities

This is the CEO of Google–a company that, four years ago, fought to avoid letting Alberto Gonzales get its searches in the name of preventing pornography–telling you that everything you do on Google “could be made available” to the authorities. Which I presume means it is being made available…

59 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    Well, I think it’s not just that Google may be forced to give everything to the government under the Patriot Act (I suspect they’ve been beating on them to give up since Denny Hastert was still in the House).

    It’s an acknowledgment that the network is wide open, and anything you put on the internet is available to anybody, for the right money and with the right access.

    Information security is an illusion.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Like the telecoms, Mr. Google must be raking in the dough from assisting the police with their enquiries. Funny how that makes the American bidnessman all warm and fuzzy about cooperating, and telling others to sit back and enjoy getting the bidness from both of them. I wonder what mergers Mr. Giggle has planned that will require a cooperative government in turn.

    • Rayne says:

      Care to tell me how they’d bill the government?

      The telsatcos have a methodology so far, but I don’t see it with Google — at the moment.

      This could even be the reason why Google didn’t get into the 700 mhz bandwidth auction; they could have blown out the other participants if they chose to.

      What does concern me is that Google is anticipated to enter the smartphone industry sometime in 2010. What happens then?

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I suppose, oh, the government could demand access to Giggles server farms, to copy the traffic flow. It could persuade them it was in their best interests to enter into a cooperation regarding their analysis software. The idea that the government’s renamed Total Information Awareness programs do not have access to Google data and analyses seems, well, unpragmatic.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          As I understand from Shadow Factory, the govt already does this. IIRC, he even tells the locations of the govt centers where all the info is stored.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Giggle is doing his Villagey part to dampen the public’s expectations about its rights as the public. Congress is doing its part to dampen public expectations regarding what, in other countries, is the civil right to decent health care. The Senate’s tax on so-called Cadillac health insurance plans, to take a tiny example, is a way to impose burdens on full coverage plans in order to eviscerate what “full coverage” means.

    It’s an old game, like that smallish car rental companies call “full size” or “premium”, like that 12 ounce tub of ice cream sold for the same price a pound (for Bobo, that’s 16 oz.) tub did before.

    Mr. Giggles makes the odd billion dollars every so often from keeping, manipulating, marketing and selling billions of searches from around the world. That’s why his useful search engine is “free” to use. Current technology allows him often to associate those searches with individual computers, which, in turn, can be associated with specific people and all their searches and other Internet activity. That builds the profiles that commercial and government entities are attempting to compile on our digital lives.

    Of course, he tells us we should not expect greater privacy. If we did, it would impose restrictions and oversight on his business and cost him money. Can’t have that. This is America.

    • Rayne says:

      It’s not “free to use.” That’s a common misunderstanding. You agree to permit the use of your search activity in exchange for their ability to market to you.

      A quid pro quo.

      Don’t like it? Don’t use it.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        That’s why I put “free” in quotes. It’s a common construction, when the subject word does not mean what the reader ordinarily assumes it means. Like “fair and balanced” or Fox “News”.

        “Don’t like it, don’t use it,” is in the same class of phrases. Like “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. It assumes that regulation of the privacy aspects of digital communications is inherently illegtimate – except for government spying. Among the most economically developed countries, only the US takes that position. The EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, for example, have extensive privacy regimes.

        Facebook is being taken to task now for a new “privacy” [there it is, again] policy whose default settings yield less privacy than the former, heavily criticized policy. Only in the US is making money allowed to trump so many civil rights.

  4. posaune says:

    makes one weep for Jefferson, poor guy must have rolled over in his grave thousands of times since 2001. And he thought he would get a break in 2009. fat chance.

  5. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    This really is complicated; do I want drug lords to be able to hide their activities by claiming ‘privacy’? No, I do not. Ditto pedophiles.

    The scary thing is having an Alberto Gonzo, or a David Addington, or a Dick Cheney, able to scoop up all the data on their political opponents under the guise of ‘national security’.

    Unfortunately, the Bush era so politicized all aspects of government that the concept that there are actually ‘impartial parties’ who simply ‘follow the law’ was severely damaged, and that complicates the conversation.

    • fuckno says:

      “do I want drug lords to be able to hide their activities by claiming ‘privacy’? No, I do not. Ditto pedophiles.”

      What’s the difference between post office and google? I mean if ‘evildoers’ are to be the reason we should forfeit our freedoms the gov. will manufacture evildoers galore! Pedophiles and drug lords get more direct aid from the Churches and the Governments than via google, I think?!

    • prostratedragon says:

      Prediction: We will see exactly the number of apprehensions of drug lords and child predators using these surveillance protocols that is necessary to complete the installation of the surveillance state with squelched opposition, plus random instances occasioned by private agendas of the privileged, and not one more.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The privacy regimes of the industrialized world have standard exceptions for judicial/prosecutorial cooperation and criminal investigations.

    They were based on the assumption that probable caused exists under state laws to suspect specific criminal activity of named individuals. New search capabilities, however, are driving governments to search everything, in part, in order to prevent criminal activity before it takes place. The searches are far more intrusive and crimes have not yet committed.

    The debate over whether that’s the direction police powers should go, with the associated significant loss in privacy rights, hasn’t taken place or it has been forcefully muted by the exigencies of war.

    Governments are actively displacing that debate by bludgeoning into existence the powers and practices that ought to be debated. They thereby delegitimize the debate (and the right to debate) that should precede and shape such powers and practices. The horse may be lame, but the cart is racing through town ahead of it.

  7. Jo Fish says:

    Schmidt’s a tool, when he was CEO of Novell he managed to run a great company which owned the network software market pre-Microsloth into the ground because he did not understand the software, its use and most of all the customers. His primary focus was on squeezing every drop of cash out of the company and its customers when MS was basically giving away Window NT to gain marketshare. What an idiot.

      • bobschacht says:

        Try Ixquick, which bills itself as “the world’s most private search engine.” Its been around for a while– since before Google and Yahoo search engines made it so big. I found them in my old “Search” bookmark folder, along with several other old search engines that have since wandered off in search of other business. I tested it with a fairly difficult search that I did recently that Yahoo and Google both failed, and it found useful results.

        Bob in AZ

        • bobschacht says:

          Did I just hear an echo? Oh, it was me, echoing what ondelette recommended @ 47.

          ondelette, I guess I owe you the beverage of your choice. What’ll it be tonight? Glad to see I wasn’t the only person to recommend Ixquick.

          Bob in AZ

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I don’t discount the government’s need to have access to digital data to detect, prevent and solve crimes. The ability to act criminally via digital communications is extensive. Much more extensive, however, is normal communications and commerce.

    Our legal system and standards of due process worked well for two hundred years, but suddenly, they’re outdated, just when the government wants to cover its backside after a catastrophe; make torture official policy; declare and wage an illegal war; or when the political party that has just taken the reins of government governs as if it were a strip mine operator and the public were the mountain top?

    The self-serving character of much of what passes for legislation and governance – after the debates on health care and financial reform – ought to be plain. Such motivations should be considered when reviewing claims that, if the public gives a little here and a little there, they will be protected from the worst nightmare the government can project in front of them.

  9. newtonusr says:

    I think judgment matters. If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

    From privacy-concerned CEO to finger-wagging cretin – that didn’t take long.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The New York Times standard, “If you don’t want to read about your conduct on its front pages, don’t do it”, originated in the context of public figures, politicians and corporate CEO’s. It was not intended to restrict the daily lives of Larry, Curly and Moe. It is an empty slogan, useful only in harming, when it seeks to describe the government’s constitutional obligations towards its people or their rights against the government.

  10. perris says:

    hare’s where we miss an important point in the discussion;

    we need privacy laws to protect the information we are most proud far more then we need those laws to guard against embarrassing info

    our trade secrets, our manuscripts our inventions, our contacts, what we pay for a service or good what we sell our service or good and for what profit

    they want this ability to steal

    an official, or even a private contractor can use a cover of “government service” to aquire information to steal

    I don’t want someone using the cover of their office to find out where my daughter will be or to listen in on my son and I don’t want them looking up my wifes skirt

    THAT’S the way we need to confront this discussion

  11. marc5 says:

    Google (and any other web service provider) could neutralize much of any PATRIOT Act onus by simply not retaining raw log data for any significant length of time.

    Companies retain user info for whatever business-specific mining they need to do, but I assert that there are fairly few cases requiring that such mined info be retained in any kind of human user-identifiable form.

    Nothing to subpoena, and perhaps equally important, nothing to lose to hackery / corp espionage.

    Government mandated raw log retention is a Mark of The Beast for authoritarianism and there is no reason that companies should facilitate a stealth, de-facto retention policy. If “government” agencies want it, make them instigate legislation, out in the open*.

    * yeah I know, most likely just bend/twist/distort existing laws.

  12. whataretheysmoking says:

    of course. how else could they barge into people’s private property for their “google street view” maps?

    the swiss are mad

    and so are the aussies.

    Google’s picture-snapping cars have been cruising Australia’s suburbs since late last year, with pictures of thousands of homes expected to be uploaded to the internet with Street View’s launch.

    While Google has defended the project, the internet company baulked when The Weekend Australian requested the personal details and addresses of the group’s key figures to allow the paper’s photographers to take pictures of their homes. “Providing those details would be completely inappropriate,” said Google spokesman Rob Shilkin.

  13. Sufilizard says:

    So does this mean I’m going to be ethically compelled to find an alternative to my gmail account?

    OT – I just got an e-mail from DFA with the following opening:

    The continued talk of finding a “compromise” in the Senate which would eliminate the public option in the healthcare bill is a negotiation with defeat. Even if the deal expands access to Medicare for some Americans under 65, this should not be a question of one or the other.

    As my brother Howard said yesterday, “we can do both.” The choice of a public option and expanding access to Medicare before the 2010 elections are each essential to real reform.

    • bobschacht says:

      Howard Dean was just on Rachel Maddow’s show supporting the Senate bill– while at the same time supporting Jane Hamsher’s current action efforts as needed to keep the pressure on.

      Bob in AZ

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Search engines are in it for the money, not the glory. There are hundreds of alternatives to Google, tapping different markets or niches, using similar or different software. Privacy policies vary considerably. I recommend you check them out, but it’s a “buyer beware” market.

    Here is one site that rates Twitter, Cooliris, Kosmix, etc. (Click on the next/previous buttons to view its ten examples).

    Here’s another list.

    And here another.

  15. Praedor says:

    One: use tor
    Two: use tor to acquire a fully anonymous email account using an alias and a username that has no relation to you whatsoever
    Three: NEVER log into this email account without using tor
    Four: Learn about and USE gnupg or OpenPGP to encrypt your email
    Five: NEVER use google search – use scroogle or some alternative and do so while using tor
    Six: profit!

    I myself have 6 fully anonymous email accounts with yahoo and google acquired in the aforementioned way. I NEVER login to them without using tor and I never send emails with them that are unencrypted and I don’t generally use them to communicate with easy-identified associates of mine. Just a privacy quirk of mine, expecting actual privacy as the Founders had and intended.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        It is a pain sometimes, to take such steps. “Paranoia”, however, describes an unreasonable fear. It’s not unreasonable to take simple precautions to deter intrusive corporate marketing, offshore identity theft, and the quite blatantly conducted government spying.

        • fuckno says:

          All I am saying is that there has got to be a better way of securing ones privacy than an endless array of security patches and whatnots. Is the internet going to be a window on the world, a prison cell ( a fucking succubus/incubus ‘thingy’), or a Keep with a permanently structurally flawed moat?

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            I agree. This is an example of where unregulated commercial and governmental intrusions deny us a reasonable level of privacy. Their come back is that there’s no such thing, so live with it. It’s rare for the criminal or the wrongdoer to define away his intrusions so glibly.

            There are plenty of legal models in use. As the health care debate suggests, until we have more and better Dems, fuggedaboutit. Which leaves trying to minimize one’s digital fingerprint.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Good recommendations. Using Tor especially. Much of this is also useful to prevent basic identity theft. It reduces your digital signature or fingerprint. The anonymity such steps provide will likely slow down your online habits, but it can be worth it.

      Tor provides a useful, but modest level of protection. It helps deter casual spying, not focused attention. And as you say, failing to combine your suggestions is like leaving a hole in a dike: the waters of intrusion will quickly pour through.

  16. georgewalton says:

    Well, Google and Schmidt contributed over $800,000 to Obama’s presidential bid. And Obama has been doing his damnest to give Bush a run for the money in embracing the reactionary Patriot Act. Maybe they discussed it.

    After all, on January 28th 2009, Obama gave a talk in the Roosevelt room. Sitting directly to his left is Schimdt grinning like, well, a billionaire hobnobing with the president.

    And if you ask Obama, I’m sure he endorses the “do no evil” approach himself.

    That’s easy enough to do, right? Especially when you get to define what evil is. Alas, we have never been able to pin that down decisively, have we?

  17. Praedor says:

    Simply using tor for web searches and other low level web stuff is a simple way to prevent google AND the gubmnt from tapping into your web search habits. Tor use screws up your google searching, however. You have to jump through an extra minor hurdle to get your search results. Google comes back with a page indicating that it thinks you are a bot and so you need to enter word from an image of the word and then allows you access to the search results.

    There are other search engines that are more anonymous and a backdoor means of accessing google without all the evil corporate and government spying: scroogle is one (there are others). Check out By itself you avoid google’s normal user spying but with tor, you add another layer of “piss off Big Brother”.

  18. Praedor says:

    PGP encryption is just not that hard to do either for email. If you would simply convince at least a subset of your peeps who you communicate with regularly via email (especially if they live overseas in some “enemy” country like Britain, France, etc, where the NSA can simply tap in as a matter of course without ANY court OK) to setup and use OpenPGP (windows) or gnupg (linux) for all email messages then it would really put the “fuck off” on government spying. Even the NSA would have a VERY hard time breaking a 4096-bit encryption (the max). Hell, even with their supercomputers they would have a hard time with a 2048-bit key – at least if you and your peeps use decent passphrases. I never go smaller than 4096-bit myself just because I want to piss of the spooks (my brother lives overseas and I am not interested in letting Big Bro read our emails regardless of how inocuous they are…just as I am not keen on people reading my snail mail WITHOUT A WARRANT).

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      British police make first arrest under draconian cybercrimes law: a diagnosed schizophrenic who refused to give police the decryption codes for his laptop files.

  19. OldFatGuy says:

    I wish we could take this and turn it upside down.

    I’d love to find the best hackers in the world and have them hack into the corporate and political leaders information and find all the embarrassing info they could and make it public.

    Fun times that, IMO.

  20. rapier says:

    Everyone is guilty of something, even Schmidt. Perhaps it is just embarrassing or perhaps against the law. Of course everyone can’t be brought before the public for embarrassment or prosecution. That makes it doubly important in this day and age to keep your head down. Go along. Isn’t that what freedom is all about.

    With proper surveillance this whole Christian thing would have never gotten out of hand for Rome, which had plenty of other things to worry about.

  21. x174 says:

    i’ve been thinking that the leaked email’s from the Univerity of E. Anglia, that top climate change research center, may have been obtained initially from such illicitly obtained data, and then later that information was given to certain rightwing groups so that they knew beforehand who to target for computer hacking to improve their ability to derail any possibility that the US might cut back on fossil fuel consumption.

    if this scenario is true, i wouldn’t be surprised if such usage of illicitly obtained data escalates.

  22. x174 says:


    British experts defend climate data after email leaks

    More than 1,700 British scientists have signed a petition insisting that global warming is man-made, a spokesman said Thursday after leaked emails sparked a row over the science behind climate change.

    The emails, intercepted from scientists at Britain’s University of East Anglia, a top centre for climate research, have been seized upon by sceptics as evidence that the experts twisted data in order to dramatise global warming.

    But the British scientists’ petition, released on the fourth day of a landmark United Nations summit on climate change in Copenhagen, insisted the evidence was clear.

    “We, members of the UK science community, have the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities.”

    Some of leaked emails expressed frustration at the scientists’ inability to explain what they described as a temporary slowdown in warming and discussed ways to counter the campaigns of climate change naysayers.

  23. bluewombat says:

    One word: Ixquick. is the only search engine that keeps your searches private and doesn’t rat you out to snoopy government agencies, “government contractors,” or anyone else.

    Although “freedom-loving” rightards don’t believe in the Fourth Amendment, I do. If the government thinks I’m doing something wrong, let them come after me with a search warrant.

    I only use Google now if I’m looking for an image or I have to do a search with the “cache” feature that highlights key words in color so you can find them in a long document.

    EDITED TO ADD: Oops, I see that ondelette @ 47 and bobschacht @ 55 beat me to the punch.

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