Apple and Google invited to debate a confidential summit for spies


Click to enlargeDownton Abbey for spies

At an 18th-century mansion in England’s countryside last week, current and former spy chiefs from seven countries faced off with representatives from tech giants Apple and Google to discuss government surveillance in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

The three-day conference, which took place behind closed doors and under strict rules about confidentiality, was aimed at debating the line between privacy and security…

According to an event program obtained by The Intercept, questions on the agenda included: “Are we being misled by the term ‘mass surveillance’?” “Is spying on allies/friends/potential adversaries inevitable if there is a perceived national security interest?” “Who should authorize intrusive intelligence operations such as interception?” “What should be the nature of the security relationship between intelligence agencies and private sector providers, especially when they may in any case be cooperating against cyber threats in general?” And, “How much should the press disclose about intelligence activity?”

The list of participants included:

Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security; Verity Harding, Google’s U.K. public policy manager and head of security and privacy policy; Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director of global privacy; Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s product security and privacy manager; Matthew Kirk, Vodafone Group’s external affairs director; and Phillipa McCrostie, global vice chair of transaction advisory services, Ernst & Young…

From the U.S.:

John McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director and deputy director; Jami Miscik, the CIA’s former director of intelligence; Mona Sutphen, member of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board and former White House deputy chief of staff; Rachel Brand, member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board; George Newcombe, board of visitors, Columbia Law School; David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and associate editor; and Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books contributor…

The event was chaired by the former British MI6 spy chief Sir John Scarlett and organized by the Ditchley Foundation, which holds several behind-closed-doors conferences every year at its mansion in Oxfordshire in an effort to address “complex issues of international concern.” The discussions are held under what is called the Chatham House Rule, meaning what is said by each attendee during the meetings cannot be publicly revealed, a setup intended to encourage open and frank discussion. The program outlining the conference on surveillance told participants they could “draw afterwards on the substance of what has been said” but warned them “not under any circumstances to reveal to any person not present at the conference” details exposing what particular named individuals talked about…

Investigative reporter Duncan Campbell, who attended the event, told The Intercept that it was a “remarkable” gathering that “would have been inconceivable without Snowden,” the National Security Agency whistleblower.

“Away from the fetid heat of political posturing and populist headlines, I heard some unexpected and surprising comments from senior intelligence voices, including that ‘cold winds of transparency’ had arrived and were here to stay,” said Campbell, who has been reporting on British spy agencies over a career spanning four decades.

He added: “Perhaps to many participants’ surprise, there was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden – love him or hate him – had changed the landscape; and that change towards transparency, or at least ‘translucency’ and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary.”

Since none of us were invited to the discussion we’ll have to rely upon “interpretations” leaked over coming weeks. Certainly, some of those attending were on the side of privacy and transparency. Not governed by government-level paranoia or bound by class-dependent arrogance.

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