Marc Andreessen: Tech companies are still fuming over the NSA

(Cecilia Kang / The Washington Post)
Marc Andreessen at The Washington Post. (Cecilia Kang / The Washington Post)

Almost a year after he released a flurry of documents showing the National Security Agency was collecting data on everyone from foreign leaders to U.S. citizens, Edward Snowden is still the predominant Washington story in the minds of tech executives who believe the controversy has caused damage to their businesses.

That's according to the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, who said in a wide-ranging interview Monday that Silicon Valley's repeated meetings with the Obama administration were mostly for show and have produced "not even a little" progress on privacy and surveillance issues.

Chief executives from leading companies including Netflix, Google and Facebook met with senior White House officials in December, and again in March. While the Obama administration said at the time that the meetings helped clear the air on intelligence reforms, Andreessen argued Monday that the White House has not done enough to mitigate the NSA's impact on tech companies' reputations, particularly overseas.

"The level of trust in U.S. companies has been seriously damaged, especially but not exclusively outside the U.S.," said Andreessen. "Every time a new shoe drops — and there are 10,000 of them — it serves a blow to the U.S."

Some estimates suggest the news about the NSA's surveillance practices may have cost tech companies tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue.

In January, Obama announced a series of proposed changes to the NSA's surveillance practices. They included requiring the spy agency to seek permission from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court every time it wants to investigate U.S. phone records. They also put limits on what the NSA is allowed to do with the results.

But it was Congress, not the White House, that voted recently to allow companies to talk more openly about the data requests they receive from the government, and to end the practice of bulk phone records collection altogether. Meanwhile, a major privacy study that the Obama administration announced in January, along with the other NSA reforms that came out earlier this month, only seemed to gloss over the controversy that led to to study's creation. Consumer advocates were quick to criticize the report's focus on commercial data gathering at the expense of government surveillance.

"Although the report may have been silent on government use of big data for intelligence gathering, we won’t be," the Electronic Frontier Foundation vowed in a blog post.

The White House may be hoping tech companies will eventually forget about the whole thing, according to Andreessen, who said "the view from Silicon Valley is that the White House hung the NSA out to dry."

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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