September 15, 2013
Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden stood on the pulpit of a church across from the White House on Sunday and declared Gmail the preferred online service of terrorists. As part of an adult education forum at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Hayden gave a wide ranging speech on “the tension between security and liberty.”
During the speech, he specifically defended Section 702 of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA), which provides the legal basis for the PRISM program. In doing so, Hayden claimed “Gmail is the preferred Internet service provider of terrorists worldwide,” presumably meaning online service rather than the actual provider of Internet service. He added: “I don’t think you’re going to see that in a Google commercial, but it’s free, it’s ubiquitous, so of course it is.”
At one point, Hayden expressed a distaste for online anonymity, saying “The problem I have with the Internet is that it’s anonymous.” But he noted, there is a struggle over that issue even inside government. The issue came to a head during the Arab Spring movement when the State Department was funding technology to protect the anonymity of activists so governments could not track down or repress their voices.
“We have a very difficult time with this,” Hayden said. He then asked, “is our vision of the World Wide Web the global digital commons — at this point you should see butterflies flying here and soft background meadow-like music — or a global free fire zone?” Given that Hayden also compared the Internet to the wild west and Somalia, Hayden clearly leans toward the “global free fire zone” vision of the Internet.