The White House is dispatching a number of top national security officials to Silicon Valley this week to seek help eliminating ISIS. It is unlikely to be successful because of the way the Obama administration has been treating the industry with regard to things like warrantless search, illegal spying, and an approach to privacy, particularly with regard to foreign nationals, that is destroying much of their business. If you are actively destroying someone’s ability to earn a living, asking them for any help is not likely to be very successful.
Let’s talk about why.
China vs. U.S. Government Interaction
One of the most interesting discussions that I’ve had on this subject was last year with the head of a multi-national U.S.-based company on the difference between working with the U.S. and China. He said that when working with the U.S., it was all about compliance and oversight, that it was like the government thought he was a criminal and they were working to prove him guilty or put him out of business. Government was either ordering him to do things that weren’t prudent, violating the privacy of his customers, or doing things that were scaring foreign customers from his offerings.
Most painful recently was the idea of warrantless search, which forced firms to provide information on foreign nationals without due process. Just the rumor of this was driving customers in massive numbers away from his services and making it nearly impossible to operate in much of the rest of the world.
China, on the other hand, constantly asked what they could do to make him more successful and made resources available. That made him want to build and staff his efforts there rather than in the U.S. They were more of a partner in the business, working to ensure its success so he could maximize revenue and they could maximize related tax income.
This creates an environment wherein firms in China are more likely to want to help if asked because the government is working to make them successful. In the U.S., they are less likely to want to help because they don’t trust the stated government goals. Actually, they pretty much don’t trust the government.
What the Administration Wants
They have a big ask. Apparently, they not only want the valley to support disrupting ISIS communications over social networks and email, they want help in creating a government-grade smart gun. The first effectively would put these communications and collaborations firms in the propaganda business, potentially creating even more distrust between these companies and foreign users and governments than they currently enjoy. The second is so aggressively blocked by the NRA, which funds massive ad campaigns, that the backlash could be incredibly painful for the firms (many of whom are partially or wholly ad-funded) supporting the effort.
Both efforts also clearly have benefits for national security and citizen safety, but if you don’t trust someone to have your best interests at heart, it’s far better to stonewall than help them because you’re convinced you’ll get screwed with collateral damage in the end.
Wrapping Up: Why Trust Is Important and the Effort Will Fail
If the administration — any administration — wants to work with an industry, it has to create a foundation for trust and a balance between the entities so they can cooperate on projects like this. Without the trust and a sense that the administration has their back, the willingness to actually help with anything is remote.
So, as it was with the Affordable Healthcare Act, where the administration should have addressed the excessive cost of health care problems first, it is again going after the issue backwards. They need to establish trust with the folks they want to help before they make their request. Doing it the other way around might get lip service but it likely won’t get progress.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+.