The leading Internet and technology companies of the U.S. have joined together to launch a public campaign against the country's surveillance laws, and to urge the government to overhaul practices that allow the National Security Agency, or NSA, to spy on companies' databases for access to users’ private data.
The coalition titled “Reform Government Surveillance” is the latest attempt by companies to stop or limit the NSA from accessing the personal information of Internet users, following revelations about the controversial surveillance practices employed by the agency that were made with the help of documents obtained by former defense contractor, Edward Snowden. The tech giants’ latest public revolt also coincides with President Barack Obama's plans to introduce changes to laws governing the NSA’s surveillance programs.
Technology majors -- Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and AOL (NYSE:AOL) -- in an open letter to Obama and Congress, called for sweeping changes to the way the NSA collected data under its previously secret surveillance programs.
"The undersigned companies believe that it is time for the world's governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information," the coalition’s website said."We strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed."
While the companies acknowledged governments' need to act in the interest of their citizens’ safety and security, they added that such policies should be consistent with established global norms of privacy and free expression.
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“The security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information,” Larry Page, Google's CEO, said. “This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It’s time for reform and we urge the US government to lead the way.”
The companies pointed out that the NSA’s surveillance programs are overriding their efforts to protect users' privacy and alleged that the agency's spying practices had led to a loss of users' trust.
“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. “Today we join our colleagues in the tech industry calling on the United States Congress to change surveillance laws in order to ensure transparency and accountability for government actions.”
In the letter posted on the coalition’s website, the companies based their call for reform on five principles, including limiting governments’ authority to collect users' private information, accountability and transparency about government demands, respecting the free flow of information, and avoiding conflicts among governments.
“Unchecked, undisclosed government surveillance inhibits the free flow of information and restricts their voice,” Dick Costolo, Twitter's CEO, said.