Major Tech Companies Unite to Fight Government Surveillance

By:  Warren Mass
Major Tech Companies Unite to Fight Government Surveillance

A number of technology companies have combined their efforts to expose and counter surveillance by governmental entities.

Eight of the world’s largest technology companies have combined efforts to launch a website called “Reform Government Surveillance,” designed to expose and counter governmental violations of people’s privacy.

The companies include AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo. An open letter from the eight companies, posted on their website and addressed to the president and members of Congress, acknowledged that governments “have a duty to protect their citizens,” but said that “this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.”

As Reuters news noted, the “revelations” referred to the exposure last June by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden of top secret government surveillance programs that tap into communications cables linking technology companies’ various data centers overseas.

After Snowden's disclosure, observed Reuters, many large Internet companies warned that U.S. businesses may lose revenue abroad as customers wary of such surveillance switch to non-U.S. alternatives.

The companies’ open letter to federal officials warned: “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. It’s time for a change.”

In order to keep their users’ data secure, said the statement, the companies would deploy “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.”

The letter included a link to the Reform Government Surveillance website, for those interested in reading the group’s set of five principles, which they called on governments to endorse and enact. The principles are:

1. Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information

Includes limitations on governments’ ability to compel service providers to disclose user data. The limitations should balance the governments’ need for the data (in limited circumstances) with the users’ “reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the Internet.” Furthermore, “governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications.”

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