A coalition of eight major U.S. tech companies has launched a public campaign to stymie the scope and size of government surveillance.
Dubbed simply “Reform Government Surveillance,” the campaign is led by tech and Web giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL, LinkedIn, and Apple. The campaign comes after the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden – all of which appear to be damaging thee relationship between customers and the tech firms that transmit, store and, sometimes, hand over personal data to the federal government.
“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide,” reads the coalition’s open letter to President Obama and Congress. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our Constitution.”
The companies have outlined five “principles” on which the U.S. government should revamp the way it spies on the world’s citizenry. They include “sensible” limits on the government’s ability to collect users’ personal data, stronger oversight of the laws and courts that govern how the NSA and other spy agencies operate, increased transparency with regards to government demands for user data, support of the free flow of information across national boundaries, and the establishment of a “robust, principled, and transparent framework” that resolves conflicting legal jurisdictions.
Of the eight companies that make up the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, all but Twitter and LinkedIn were named in the initial leaked documents, which were made public in June. The docs outline the NSA’s PRISM data collection program.
“Recent revelations about government surveillance activities have shaken the trust of our users, and it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said in a statement.
Microsoft followed Google and Yahoo last week by implementing greater encryption for users. The move follows an earlier revelation that the NSA had access to the connections between Google and Yahoo data centers – a level of access neither company claims to have known about prior to the reports.
Earlier this year, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, AOL, and LinkedIn announced their support for the USA Freedom Act, which would enable companies to be more transparent about government demands for users data. While the Reform Government Surveillance campaign is not the first effort to change the U.S. government’s approach to surveillance, it is the most aggressive.
“People won’t use technology they don’t trust, said Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs, at Microsoft. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”