Earlier today, Michael Arrington solemnly vowed to "face down the evil at TechCrunch Disrupt," the tech blog's biannual conference. Not the vulgar sexism permitted on stage, but rather the tech industry's see-no-evil attitude towards the NSA using its products to spy on American citizens. (Complacency seems to be common theme.)
As Arrington made clear, these were not "gotcha" questions. He ran this seemingly aggressive line of questioning (beginning around 14.30) by SV Angel founder Ron Conway, the "godfather of Silicon Valley" last night. That might be why Conway had the perfect comeback:
"Now I'm just one human being," Conway told Arrington, who asked the investor if he hadn't done a single thing to stop the NSA "because of the money":
"If this is an issue you're passionate about, you should be the Ron Conway of the NSA issue. Like I'm gun safety."
"I'm speaking out, but I don't have the ability to put together a political machinery like you do," Arrington replied. "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?" Conway retorted.
The entire exchange was like this—a mix of back-patting and pre-screened barbs. "I do think a lot of what you talk about is complete bullshit. But we still say that the most important early stage investor to get is, you know, SV Angel. We include ourselves in that. We like to work with you, we always try to get you into our deals," Arrington said, in reference to his venture capital firm CrunchFund and SV Angel.
Before suggesting Arrington take up the mantle of our civil liberties, Conway explained that he's already spent his political capital for the year.
For my involvement, I've picked three issues in the last year: gun safety, immigration—I spend at least an hour a day right now working on immigration reform that's in the house of representatives now and we hope it passes by the end of the year. We have a lot of work to do . . . The third issue is civic engagement. What we've done with SF City to get the tech community involved locally in their community.
Conway said he became involved with gun safety after an "epiphany" at his home on the day of the Sandy Hook massacre in December "when Gabby Giffords happened to be a guest at my holiday party." Arrington called Conway's organization, Sandy Hook Promise, "nebulous," but Conway said it had facilitated "a lot of gun buybacks."
By immigration reform, of course Conway is referring to a self-serving crusade orchestrated by FWD.us to get bring in more foreign tech workers, despite studies that show there is no shortage of talent at home, albeit at a higher salary.
But in a way Conway is standing on firm ground. He is politically engaged and he's under no obligation to feel as passionately about privacy as Arrington. In fact, his campaign donations reflect that. In the past year, he has donated to Republican congressman Darrel Issa and Democratic Jackie Speier, who both voted to uphold the NSA's surveillance program, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who said the NSA is "proving it’s worth yet again."
See, not all techies are Libertarians. Some are "lifelong Republicans."
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