Cisco CEO and chairman John Chambers wrote a letter urging President Obama to rein in the NSA (National Security Agency), warning that without any such action, "our country's global technological leadership will be impaired."
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) declined to comment on the letter, but confirmed its authenticity.
The letter follows the latest NSA revelations, based on documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden, alleging the NSA intercepted equipment from Cisco and other companies and loaded the gear with surveillance software. Photos, still unverified, seem to show NSA technicians working on Cisco equipment. Those photos circulated on the Internet the day before the date on Chambers's letter.
The issue affects "an entire industry that depends on a global supply chain and global shipments," not Cisco alone. "We ship our products from locations inside, as well as outside, the United States, and if these allegations are true, these actions will undermine confidence in our industry and the ability of technology companies to deliver products globally," Chambers states.
"Confidence in the open, global Internet has brought enormous economic benefits to the United States and to billions of people around the world," Chambers adds. Revelations of government surveillance erodes that confidence and makes it tough for companies to meet privacy expectations of citizens and laws of other countries.
"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 of security," Chambers notes.
New standards should "ensure that the appropriate safeguards and limits exist that serve national security objectives, while at the same time meet the needs of global commerce. 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."
Without such standards, the Internet could fragment, jeopardizing future innovation, says the CEO.
Cisco "does not work with any government, including the United States Government, to weaken our products," he continues. When Cisco learns about a security vulnerability, it validates the vulnerability, lets customers know, and fixes it as soon as possible, adds Chambers.
Chambers's letter follows a May 13 blog post in which Cisco General Counsel Mark Chandler says the NSA "overreached."
The NSA says "the implication that NSA's foreign intelligence collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false," but would not address specific incidences, according to the Financial Times.
For the full text of Chambers's letter, click on this link.
Cisco cited flagging business in emerging markets, including Russia, Brazil, and China, for declining revenues in its earnings call last week. (See Cisco Earnings Suffer From Carrier Weakness.)