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Why is the government at CES?

An attendee looks at a laptop computer display at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) January 9, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Our coverage of the global consumer electronics show.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas today the Commerce Department is set to make an appearance. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will be promoting the department’s “Open for Business Agenda.” It’s focused on trade and investment, innovation, and data. But given all the hubbub with the NSA and surveillance issues, how warm of welcome will the government get?

Poor commerce department. Try explaining to the techies at the consumer electronics show that even though you work with the government you are not responsible for the NSA.

“If I’m there and I’m selling routers or any other communications equipment I won’t want anyone from Washington standing near my booth,” says Daniel Castro a senior analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a non-profit think tank. He says the problem is that a lot of people attending CES won’t make the distinction between one branch of the government from another. “There’s Washington and there’s not Washington,” he says, “and beyond that, everything else is the same color grey.”

Castro notes that the anti-Washington mood is unfortunate because many of the the Commerce Department’s policies are in sync with Silicon Valley, like increasing the availability of skilled workers and supporting research and development.  

It’s the NSA says David Rogers, a professor at Columbia Business School, that’s really struck a blow to the  ability of the U.S. tech industry to do business overseas. The ripple effect, he says is enormous, even reaching our partners, like a recent deal between the French and the United Arab Emirates which was set to spend hundreds of millions on a new satellite.

“They put the deal on hold,” says Rogers, “because they discovered there were some American computer parts in the satellite which seemed to raise the threat that the data would be accessible to the NASA.”

Daniel Castro estimates security concerns could cost U.S. cloud computing companies up to $35 billion dollars over the next three years.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

Our coverage of the global consumer electronics show.

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