Warning of an erosion of confidence in the products of the U.S. technology industry, John Chambers, the CEO of networking giant Cisco Systems, has asked President Obama to intervene to curtail the surveillance activities of the National Security Agency.
In a letter dated May 15 (obtained by Re/code and reprinted in full below), Chambers asked Obama to create “new standards of conduct” regarding how the NSA carries out its spying operations around the world. The letter was first reported by The Financial Times.
The letter follows new revelations, including photos, published in a book based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden alleging that the NSA intercepted equipment from Cisco and other manufacturers and loaded them with surveillance software. The photos, which have not been independently verified, appear to show NSA technicians working with Cisco equipment. Cisco is not said to have cooperated in the NSA’s efforts.
Addressing the allegations of NSA interference with the delivery of his company’s products, Chambers wrote: “We ship our products globally from inside as well as outside the United States, and if these allegations are true, these actions will undermine confidence in our industry and in the ability of technology companies to deliver products globally.”
“We simply cannot operate this way; our customers trust us to be able to deliver to their doorsteps products that meet the highest standards of integrity and security,” Chambers wrote. “We understand the real and significant threats that exist in this world, but we must also respect the industry’s relationship of trust with our customers.”
Failure to restore and repair that trust, Chambers said, could threaten the evolution of the Internet itself and lead to its fragmentation.
The letter follows a May 13 blog post by Cisco General Counsel Mark Chandler saying the NSA had “overreached.” Chandler said that Cisco does not cooperate with any government, including the U.S. government, to “weaken our products.”
Concern about the aggressive tactics of the NSA have hit Cisco’s results, especially in emerging markets like Russia, Brazil and China. When the company reported quarterly earnings last week, it said that orders from emerging countries fell seven percent, and that Brazil, Russia, India, China and Mexico combined for a 13 percent drop. Individually, orders in Brazil fell 27 percent and in Russia, 28 percent.
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