Alliance of Internet Giants Demands Government Surveillance Reform

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What could unite the world’s leading technology giants, including Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG), Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT), Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO)? Turns out it is preserving the public’s trust in the Internet in the wake of disclosures by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The normally fiercely competitive tech giants mentioned above, along with Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR), LinkedIn Corp. (NYSE: LNKD) and AOL Inc. (NYSE: AOL), together published an open letter Monday to President to Obama and Congress to demand sweeping changes to U.S. surveillance laws, as well as an international ban on the bulk collection of data. These are radical reforms, but ones already proposed by Washington politicians.

The letter begins:

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. 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. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish.

The alliance also calls on governments to endorse a set of principles on which the reforms should be based. Those principles include:

  • Limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information
  • Oversight and accountability
  • Transparency about government demands
  • Respecting the free flow of information
  • Avoiding conflicts among governments

Full details on these principles, as well as the open letter, can be seen at the Reform Government Surveillance website.

The open letter also says:

For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.

Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo! have all recently responded to public concerns over surveillance by increasing the security of their products. For instance, they have introduced “perfect forward secrecy” encryption, which protects information moving through their internal systems.

President Obama has argued that the NSA is a necessary part of the national security apparatus:

I’ve said before and I will say it again, the NSA actually does a very good job about not engaging in domestic surveillance, not reading people’s emails, not listening to the contents of their phone calls. … Outside of our borders, the NSA’s more aggressive.

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