The power of design principles: the PRISM survelliance scandal

Eff spying eagle

Here’s my marketing take on the PRISM surveillance scandal currently unfolding for the National Security Agency: it’s as if IBM started making staplers, although much more nefarious.

IBM makes a certain class of office automation products, computers and software, based on design principles. Sure, staplers are one form of office automation, but they don’t match IBM’s design principles or its reputation for hi-tech and sophistication. Users of both staplers and computers would be very confused by an IBM stapler.

And so it is with the PRISM scandal. The U.S. has design principles, as well. They are written down in the Declaration of Independence, and Constitution and Bill of Rights. With PRISM, the Administration violated two powerful U.S. design principles: the presumption of innocence and the freedom from unreasonable search.

By monitoring all traffic coming out of the commercial servers of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and others, the administration acts as if they presume someone, somewhere, using those servers must be guilty of something. That is exactly counter to our principle of presumption of innocence. Such overly broad surveillance quickly becomes an unreasonable search against the millions of innocent people who use those commercial servers for completely legal and, often, socially enhancing ways.

Administration officials have asserted that PRISM is legal. Given the Patriot Act and other laws, it probably is. But in branding and promotion, perception is reality, and many people perceive that PRISM has violated the design principles on which the U.S. has built one of the strongest national brands in history. In other words, PRISM may be legal but it’s unconstitutional.

Violation of design principles is one explanation for why people say that they have lost faith in public institutions. In the public sector as much as the private, design principles matter. We want our public servants and institutions, as much as our products, to say what they mean, mean what they say, and live up to their brands.

Our constitutional design principles are rigorous. How do you think the administration could fulfill the need to protect both our country and our principles?

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