A coalition of the country’s largest technology firms published an open letter to Congress and the president yesterday, calling for a change in surveillance tactics and practices. This comes on the heels of newly leaked Snowden documents alleging that government agencies (NSA, FBI and CIA, to name a few) enlisted agents starting in 2008 to create characters in the online video game World of Warcraft to infiltrate guilds and monitor player interactions.
The surveillance was conducted under the guise of a national security and anti-terrorism campaign, but as of yet no information has surfaced demonstrating agents uncovered any malicious activities or terrorist breeding grounds within the game.
So this odd effort has proven fruitless. It remains to be seen if this coalition’s letter will have the same fate. But we can at least talk about its possible implications.
And for that, I’ve enlisted the knowledge of Ryan Neal, one of the tech writers at IBT. He wrote an article yesterday outlining the “Reform Government Surveillance” letter’s principles and the companies involved.
Here’s what we’ve got figured:
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Some of the coalition companies have been linked to data sharing and complying with the NSA in the past (Microsoft and Apple, specifically), so it’s a bit strange that they’d be at the forefront of this effort.
Apple co-signed the letter, but didn’t release a statement -- and they’re not technically a part of the RGS group. It could be a hands-off approach, but lest we forget that Apple has willingly tracked users’ every move in the past.
To be fair, all of the other companies have denied any knowledge or participation in similar surveillance. But a public denial is not absolvement of committed acts.
How effective will this letter be, if at all? Neal thinks it’s got a shot, “given all the money behind these companies...billions of dollars. That might be something politicians are more willing to listen to.”
We can hope.