Another privacy bomb was dropped on Silicon Valley last week with Bloomberg's revelation about the Heartbleed software bug, dealing yet another blow to the U.S. technology industry's reputation and its ability to compete abroad.
It's hard to say what's more stunning: That Bloomberg reports that the NSA knew about the bug two years ago but didn't tell anyone, leaving American consumers at the mercy of hackers -- including, some believe, the NSA itself? Or that Washington's tech geeks seem to be ahead of the ones in Silicon Valley at every turn?
When did government outdo Silicon Valley in its awareness of sophisticated technology?
Some tech leaders think tighter regulation of the NSA is the answer. Some rules may be needed -- but since when has government regulation been the preferred means of securing tech's future?
Innovation is the solution. Industry needs to produce secure technologies so consumers know their information is safe from government eavesdropping, predatory marketers and other intrusions on privacy.
The NSA has thrown down the gauntlet.
President Barack Obama and NSA Director Keith Alexander believe protecting Americans from terrorists is more important than protecting them from invasions of privacy.
As to Congress -- suggest some rules today and in two or three years they may pass something, which by then will be years out of date.
The next era of Silicon Valley history is unfolding, and to paraphrase Bill Clinton's campaign theme, it's privacy, stupid. The next Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs will be the engineer-entrepreneur who figures out how to protect online activity from China and the NSA's crack hackers.
For online industry to thrive, consumers have to trust that their smartphones today and whatever cool things displace them tomorrow are private. Period. The technology that accomplishes this will be snapped up by consumers around the world.
To fail at this is to admit that the real tech geniuses these days reside in government cubicles in Washington. Asian and European companies will become more dominant, since American technology will be suspect.
And it's not just privacy from government that's at issue. Consumers need the right to know how their personal information is being used by the companies themselves, which is something the tech giants have resisted.
This may require regulation unless the industry decides to put on the white hat and fight for consumer privacy in all contexts, government and private.
Without quite realizing it, we have become engaged in a new war. It's over privacy. Silicon Valley needs to face up to the challenge. Now. We're getting tired of changing our passwords.