Google co-founder Larry Page on Wednesday condemned U.S. government snooping on the Internet as a threat to democracy.
His comments came during an on-stage chat at a TED gathering, where a day earlier fellow Google founder Sergey Brin had a virtual encounter with National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden.
A photo of Brin smiling with a robot remotely controlled by Snowden from a refuge in Russia, where the wanted man is in hiding, was tweeted by TED curator Chris Anderson and became an instant online hit.
“It is tremendously disappointing that the government sort of secretly did all this stuff and didn’t tell us,” Page said during the chat with interviewer Charlie Rose.
He reasoned that details of suspected terrorist threats, understandably, should remain cloaked but that the parameters of what U.S. intelligence agents do, along with how and why they do it, should be public.
“We need to have a debate about that or we can’t have a functioning democracy; it is just not possible,” Page said.
“It is sad that Google is in the position of protecting you and our users from the government doing secret things nobody knows about. It doesn’t make any sense.”
As smartphones and sensors synched to the Internet traffic in increasing amounts of data about where people are and what they are doing, it is imperative to make people aware and provide choices regarding how it is used, Page argued.
He was concerned, though, that the backlash to online spying and fears over privacy would result in blocking uses of personal information for beneficial purposes.
“What I am worried about is we throw out the baby with the bath water,” Page said.
He gave the example of how shared medical information, on an aggregate scale and made anonymous, could help researchers develop treatments and patients select doctors or map medical care.
“We are not really thinking about the tremendous good that can come from people sharing the right information with the right people in the right ways,” Page said.
Page gave the example of going public with details of trouble with his voice.
“On your show I kind of lost my voice and I haven’t gotten it back,” Page joked with Rose.
“I am hoping that by talking to you I am going to get it back. Get out your Voodoo doll and do whatever you need to do.”