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Making his first public comments about a controversy that rocked his company last year, Art Coviello, the head of security firm RSA, suggested that tech companies should avoid working with U.S. intelligence agencies until it’s clear they can be trusted.

Accused last year in a report by Reuters of leading a company that colluded with the National Security Agency, Coviello said RSA’s work with the agency has been a matter of public record for years.

In a Dec. 20 story, Reuters alleged that RSA accepted a secret $10 million payment in exchange for inserting a compromised formula for generating random numbers, one that the NSA favored, in its products. RSA has denied the payment and the collusion.

Speaking at the RSA Conference being held in San Francisco this week, Coviello said that tech companies should avoid working with government intelligence agencies like the NSA if they can’t trust it.

How to rebuild that trust? Create a clear distinction between the branches of the agency that gather intelligence and those that conduct active surveillance. This, he said, would “go far to repair relations and rebuild trust.”

He then went on to talk about bigger things, setting out four principles for creating a safer Internet.

First, he called for governments and private industry to renounce the use of cyber weapons and the use of the Internet as a theater of war. (Perhaps you didn’t know it was one, but in 2011 President Obama declared cyberspace to be a theater of warfare, legally equal to land, sea, air and space.) “We must have the same abhorrence to cyberwar as we do nuclear and chemical war,” Coviello said.

Second, he called for wider cooperation among governments in the investigation, apprehension and prosecution of cyber criminals: “Our lack of immediate, consistent and sustained cooperation, globally, gives [criminals] the equivalent of safe havens.”

Third, he said that economic activity on the Internet should be left to proceed without interference, but with respect for intellectual property: “The benefits to all of us from the improvements of productivity in commerce, research and communication are too valuable to not achieve agreement,” he said.

Finally, he said personal privacy must be respected: “Our personal information has become the true currency of the digital age. While it is important that we are not exploited, it is even more important that our fundamental freedoms are protected. … Governments have a duty to create and enforce a balance, a balance based on a fair governance model and transparency.”

It all sounds a little high-minded and idealistic, and it probably is. Coviello acknowledged as much. But, he said, the dangerous world we live in has been made less so by nuclear weapons treaties and other international agreements, and he quoted President John F. Kennedy: “Our problems are man-made. Therefore they can be solved by man.”



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