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In an on-stage Q&A at the TED conference in Vancouver, Page said he considers the NSA’s far-reaching data collection regime a threat to democracy and an obstacle to technological innovation.
“For me, it’s tremendously disappointing that the government sort of secretly did all these things and didn’t tell us,” Page told interviewer Charlie Rose. “I don’t think we can have a democracy if we’re having to protect you and our users from the government for stuff that we never had a conversation about.”
Google, he said, is open to the argument that national security requires the NSA and other agencies need to do some level of electronic eavesdropping — but determining the limits of that eavesdropping needs to happen in public if it’s going to have the public’s blessing.
“The government actually did itself a tremendous disservice by doing all that in secret,” Page said. “I think we need to have a debate about it or we can’t have a functioning democracy. It’s not possible.”
In addition to the hypothetical harm to individuals whose privacy is invaded, said Page, there’s a risk that, by feeding privacy paranoia, the NSA is deterring individuals from sharing personal information in ways that could actually benefit them. He cited medical records as a case where excessive privacy controls interfere with the ability of doctors and researchers to help patients.
“I’m just very worried that with internet privacy, we’re doing the same thing we’re doing with medical records — throwing out the baby wiht the bathwater,” he said. “We’re not thinking about the tremendous good that can come from sharing the right information in the right ways.”