When Edward Snowden's revelations of the NSA's spying shocked the world, we were immediately struck by the huge risk to the Bay Area economy if people no longer trusted the security of American technology.
Six months later, the extent of the problem is being quantified: The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation estimates the hit to U.S. cloud computing providers will be $35 billion over the next three years. Forrester analyst James Staten calculates tech losses at $180 billion by 2016.
The United States, let alone the Bay Area, cannot let this happen.
Last week eight tech giants -- AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo -- launched a very public if belated campaign against NSA surveillance. They need the region's full support.
Specifically, that means cutting off campaign contributions to politicians who don't get it.
That means you, President Barack Obama. And you, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Both are standing firm on the NSA's right to break into anything anywhere under the umbrella of fighting terrorism .
America also needs to have a larger debate about data collection and privacy rights pertaining not only to government spying but also to the tech industry's private use of our information.
The president doesn't understand the urgency. He promised last week to propose reforms to restore Americans' trust in intelligence agencies -- but he made the same promise six months ago in San Jose. What's the hold up?
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, are showing leadership. They'd better because they helped create this mess, as authors of the Patriot Act.
They have introduced a bill to end data collection except from Americans suspected of being a security threat. It's a start, but it won't restore trust in U.S. technology products.
For that, it's time to draft a comprehensive Internet Bill of Rights, providing reasonable guarantees that consumers have the right to keep their data private.
The tech industry's own shortcomings on privacy are compounding the problem. Tech companies may not be using data in a nefarious way. Maybe the NSA isn't, either. That's not the point. When Americans turn on their smartphones, laptops and tablets, they should know the extent to which both the government and private companies are tracking their activity. And they should know how the information is being used.
Silicon Valley was built on the belief that easier access to information enhances people's lives and makes the world a better place. That belief now is called into question, not just by Americans but by world markets that drive our own economy. It's up to the United States to resolve it.