Ron Conway: There Needs To Be More Silicon Valley Debate About NSA, But I’m Not The Guy Who Will Lead It

Ron Conway, one of the more powerful investors in Silicon Valley, today defended his position of not getting involved in issues around national security and consumer privacy, saying that he was already busy with too many other causes like gun control and immigration reform, while also trying to hold down his “day job” helping to run SV Angel, his VC firm.

Asked by Michael Arrington for his opinion on what is going on with the NSA and its role in tapping into private data in the name of national security, and subsequent the lack of engagement from Silicon Valley on trying to push back against it, Conway had this to say:

“I believe that we have to balance national security but there was this thing called 9/11.. you have to balance that with transparency,” he told the audience today at TC Disrupt in San Francisco. “For me personally it would depend on how they digest data and how long they keep the data. From my involvement I’ve picked three issues in the last year, gun safety, immigration reform and civic engagement… We’ve done a lot to get tech involved in the local community.” He then turned the challenge on to Arrington: “If this is an issue you’re passionate about you should do something.”

[More specifically, Arrington’s questions were more confrontational: “Why have you sat by and not done one thing?” he asked. “We’re talking about the end of civilization and the end of privacy in your life.”]

The statements come at the same time that Facebook, Google and Yahoo all stepped up their demands to the U.S. government that they be allowed to release more information about national security requests.

It’s not that Conway doesn’t have an opinion, but in a way his lack of fighting back seems to speak to a kind of inability of how best for VCs or smaller startups to respond to the story. “The events of the last 60 days indicate there needs to be a balance between transparency and national security… but I’m spending the rest of this year working on immigration reform. I’m not a bullshitter and tell people I’m going to do the same with NSA reform. Right now to me immigration reform is more important…You sound like the perfect leader.”

Earlier in the morning, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee also weighed in on the subject. “We need more people discussing this issue… we don’t know where this debate is going to go. At the same time there is an objective here that a lot of people are talking about the balance we have to have. I don’t like personal information being used in egregious ways.” He pointed out that San Francisco got to a “balance” with street cameras, for example, where the city decided with street cameras] that we would turn them off during protests but othertise keep them on for street criminals.

Mike Arrington (TechCrunch founder) earlier today laid out his intention to hit hard on questions around NSA and security and information, and what part Silicon Valley plays in this story. His belief is that Silicon Valley companies, big and small, have not done enough to push back against the wave of information requests and whatever else that government bodies have done in the name of national security.

“I’m scared of our government and I’m disgusted by what little Silicon Valley has done to fight it,” he wrote earlier today.

On Ron Conway specifically, he noted, “I am going to ask Ron Conway, who has pushed for gun control via his Sandy Hook Promise for nearly a year now, hasn’t said a word about Silicon Valley’s role in the wholesale destruction of our human rights by the United States government. He could do so much by leading an effort at real transparency, and a real pushback against the government. But he hasn’t lifted a finger. I want to know why.”

Sandy Hook Promise was launched March 2013 and is a partnership of investors who have committed to invest in startups that reduce or eliminate firearm violence. Arrington today called the effort “nebulous”.

See the full video of Arrington’s talk with Ed Lee and Ron Conway, and later with SV Angel’s managing partners, below. We’ll update with the SV Angel talk shortly.