In 1961, President Eisenhower warned the American public about the emerging Military Industrial Complex. That is, the growing relationship between the government, the military, and private sector arms producers that developed following the first and second World Wars. Eisenhower warned that the permanent arms industry that has resulted from this relationship could lead to the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” and “potentially limit liberties or democratic processes,” as private companies become dependent on government contracts, and the US economy becomes dependent on the success of those companies.
In The Real Cyber War, Powers and Jablonski argue that the same negative outcomes of the Military Industrial Complex – a co-dependent relationship between government and the private sector, massive corporate influence in politics, weakened oversight and accountability, and lack of industry vitality and competitiveness – will also be the likely outcome of the emerging Information-Industrial Complex.
Powers and Jablonski describe the Information-Industrial Complex as the ‘Silicon Triangle’ resulting from the relationship (private-public partnerships) between government, Silicon Valley, and the US economy. Here’s a brief overview:
Government –> Private Sector
After the dot-com bubble burst in the 1990s, the CIA’s corporation In-Q-Tel became the premiere IT venture capital investor, helping to support IT research and innovation companies that had investors weary of losing additional money.
Private Sector –> Government
After 9/11, the NSA reached out to major communications providers (AT&T, etc.) for customer and user information to track in case of security threats.
Government investment is now critical to IT industry growth, and industry expertise (innovation, technology, and user data) is now essential for government survival. If this bubble bursts, the US economy is at stake, since the IT sector accounts for 6.5 million jobs (as of 2014).
There are certainly a number of critical concerns resulting from the public-private partnerships of the Information-Industrial Complex.
With regard to the IT industry, Powers and Joblonski argue that continual investment from the government may limit innovation and competitiveness in the global market. And yet, while I’m no expert on Silicon Valley, it seems as if there hasn’t been a severe lack of innovation here in the United States, as companies like Apple, Facebook, and Uber remain at the forefront of the IT field.
With regard to the government, while the NSA may now rely on private companies like AT&T for national security, it appears as if the information provided isn’t actually doing much to prevent terrorism.
To me, the greatest concern is to the American public:
1. With the government now working with private companies and finding loopholes in privacy legislation as a means of gaining access to consumer information, the privacy of US citizens is at stake. In this way, information about our everyday activities has become commodified, and it’s not just the government that is looking to buy it.
2. Where there’s money, there’s influence. If the government has such a large stake in the IT sector, will government decisions regarding policy go to benefit the IT sector over the American public? Will the lines of power and hegemony begin to blur? As such, will decision-making power be left to private sector administrators, instead of elected politicians?
While public-private partnerships made sense during the Roosevelt era as a means of boosting the economy, today there are some inherent challenges to making sure these partnerships remain effective, transparent, and accountable.
Powers, Shawn M., and Michael Jablonski. “Chapter 2: The Information Industrial Complex.” In The Real Cyber War: The Political Economy of Internet Freedom. University of Illinois Press, 2015.