President Barack Obama took a small step in the right direction Friday with his announcement of modest changes in the National Security Agency's surveillance tactics. But conspicuously absent from his address was any mention of the NSA's hacking of American technology companies.
For most of the country, this is a footnote to the security vs. privacy debate. But to this area it is economic life and death.
European and Asian allies already talk about boycotting U.S. technology products because NSA spying may make their products insecure. It's a legitimate concern. The potential cost to the tech industry has been estimated at nearly $200 billion by 2016.
Whether or not Obama's slight was intended, it further damages the relationship between the president and Silicon Valley and risks damage to the U.S. economy. This is no time to blow off the industry that has led the way out of the recession.
Obama declared that he would forbid hacking foreign leaders' cellphones. That could help shore up foreign relations. But what about hacking his friends at home? Cyberattacks on major Silicon Valley firms to exploit weaknesses in their software are what we expect from, say, China -- not from our president.
This isn't just our view. The presidential panel appointed to look at NSA policies concluded, among other things, that the agency should "not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable" commercial software. It also said the president's surveillance agency should "fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards."
This five-member panel wasn't Google CEO Larry Page and his poker pals. It included some of the top terrorism experts in the world, who spent months reviewing NSA practices.
Thanks to Edward Snowden's revelations, the Obama administration has spent the past seven months re-examining the role of the NSA and the balance between individual privacy and national security. That is what's on the mind of most Americans.
But Obama could at least have thrown a bone to tech in his speech. Instead, Silicon Valley, the capital of innovation and the president's No. 1 fundraising machine, got zilch. And neither of California's senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, uttered a peep. They mostly praised the president's speech.
Obama's proposals include requiring court approval for tapping into telephone data and ending the bulk metadata collection program as it currently exists. That's great -- but he has yet to explain how it was justified in the first place. Without that understanding, a wary populace might suspect the NSA will just find another way around the rules.
It's ironic that the first president to fully use the power of the Internet could be the one to undermine America's leadership in building it.