Shine A Light On Government Surveillance

The NSA’s PRISM data collection programs and resulting probes have ignited serious concerns around government surveillance and privacy, and have citizens, foreign governments, journalists and members of Congress questioning what’s being tracked and why.

It seems like every day there is a new revelation about how our government is collecting data. On Wednesday, October 2, the Senate Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing and Chairman Patrick Leahy made the point that information is not always forthcoming. “We sometimes find we get far more in the newspapers — we get crossword puzzles as well — we get more in the newspapers than in classified briefings,” Leahy said. This is not exactly shocking, but still it is very disappointing that congressional leadership is kept in the dark about information they need to do their jobs and protect the Constitution.

At Rackspace, we think Congress should pass transparency legislation as soon as possible. We are particularly impressed by two bills designed to do just that, namely the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013, by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), and the Surveillance Order Reporting Act, by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) If passed, these bills would add  much needed transparency into how collection of user data is reported.  Senator Franken’s bill would force the government to issue annual reports to the public about the surveillance requests made through the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and companies could publish the number of surveillance requests they receive on a cadence of every six months.

We want to be as transparent with our customers as legally permissible, therefore we support Sen. Franken and Rep. Lofgren in their quests to make electronic data collection by the NSA or any other intelligence agency more public. Further, we encourage our customers, partners, friends and industry peers to support these bills and push for more transparency in how data is requested and collected.

You can read Rackspace’s full position on cloud privacy and government surveillance in the Rackspace Open Cloud Community.


  1. Alan, I appreciate your post on this subject and the predicament Rackspace faces. The great 19th century legal theorist Lysander Spooner said something on the subject of jury nullification that applies just as well to the matter at hand: “If the jury have no right to judge of the justice of a law of the government, they plainly can do nothing to protect the people against the oppressions of the government; for there are no oppressions which the government may not authorize by law.” (Emphasis mine.)

    indeed, “‘there are no oppressions which the government may not authorize by law.'” Whatever any government does, it does under the color of law. For that reason, the people themselves must always retain ultimate jurisdiction in matters of law (which is what Spooner meant in his comments on jury nullification).

    I do not expect you to answer on this particular, but I trust that Rackspace has received one or more of these national security letters. I recognize they are issued under color of law, but that only makes them legal, not lawful. For these requests to be lawful, they would need to comport with the supreme law of the land–the U.S. Constitution–as well as with natural law; thus, they would need to arrive in the form of properly-executed search warrants, issued by an independent tribunal on showing of some level of evidence of criminal activity. But they don’t. These national-security letters are essentially administrative or ministerial undertakings and as such, violate the Fourth Amendment.

    Spooner also said “whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it.” Fine–for whatever reason, the Constitution has failed to restrain the government from acting in an oppressive and dangerous way. But that doesn’t mean that any of us is required to submit to government predations without so much as a whimper.

    Respectfully, what Rackspace has apparently failed to do is fight for its customers. It could force the U.S. government into court over this issue of warrantless searches. It might still lose and be forced to turn over the customer data, but at least in that case and independent tribunal will have had a chance to hear the matter. It might event be the case that no jury would convict Rackspace for refusing to hand over customer information without a lawful warrant.

    You owe your customers a showing of more spine, but more importantly, you owe that to your children. If you don’t fight the creation of a surveillance state, who will?

    The real tragedy in this whole affair is that powerful firms such as Rackspace, Google, Apple, etc. have been so meek and short-sighted. It’s not too late to change your approach.


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