McNealy is not retracting that comment, not quite; but like Metcalfe he is more worried about potential government abuse than he used to be. "Should you be afraid if AT&T has your data? Google?" he asked. "They're private entities. AT&T can't hurt me. Jerry Brown and Barack Obama can." An outspoken critic of the California state government and Brown, the governor, McNealy said his taxes are audited every year.
But arguing that computer makers have some role in creating a surveillance state, he said, "is like blaming gun manufacturers for violence, or a car manufacturer for drunk driving". The real problem, he says, is "the scope creep of the government. I think it's great they're looking for the next terrorist. Then I wonder if they're going to arrest me, or snoop on me."
Microsoft has recently been casting itself as a champion of privacy - at least when Google is involved. Ray Ozzie, the former software chief at Microsoft, was one of those sounding the alarm late last week.
"I hope that people wake up, truly wake up, to what's happening to society, from both a big brother perspective and little brother perspective," Ozzie said at a conference in Nantucket, according to The Boston Globe. But he did not address whatever Microsoft's role might have been with Prism.
Aaron Levie, the founder of Box.com, a popular file-sharing system, initially joked on Twitter that Prism was simply putting people's Gmail, Google, Facebook and Skype data all in one place.
"The NSA just beat out like 30 start-ups to this idea," he wrote. That was funny, because it was true, but also because the interests of the government and Silicon Valley are not necessarily in conflict here.
"The most important issue here is transparency and our lack of visibility around how our data is being used," Levie says. "The government and the tech industry clearly will need to come together to create a better model for this."
In the meantime, some tech leaders have another idea: lie low. Gordon Eubanks, a valley entrepreneur for 30 years, can see both sides of the argument over privacy and security. Until it is resolved, he says, "I've just become really careful about what I put out there. I never put online anything about where I live, my family, my pets. I'm even careful about what I 'like'." .
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