Eight tech giants including Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter are urging the President, the United States Congress and world leaders to reform government surveillance laws and reassess intelligence practices in light of last summer’s Snowden leaks.
The overarching principles guiding the alliance include limiting the government’s authority to collect user information, increasing accountability and transparency, respecting the “free flow” of information and protecting citizens’ privacy even when laws differ internationally.
In an open letter to Washington, the CEOs “urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”
The coalition believes “the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual” and acknowledges that current laws governing surveillance are broken and may be hurting future adoption of new technologies.
The firms worry about losing business in the U.S. and abroad if they are unable to guarantee customers that their personal information is safe. They’ve pledged to keep user data secure by using encryption technology and fighting unreasonable government requests but also call on Congress to take the lead.
Company executives provided statements on the principles of the reform. Twitter, for example, “is committed to defending and protecting the voice of our users. Unchecked, undisclosed government surveillance inhibits the free flow of information and restricts their voice. The principles we advance today would reform the current system to appropriately balance the needs of security and privacy while safeguarding the essential human right of free expression.” –Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter.
The companies have already asked for increased government transparency, such as allowing them to publish exact numbers of government data requests made under the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Some of the Snowden revelations include the following:
- The PRISM program allows direct access to the servers of companies including Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft.
- NSA accessed the cell phone records of all of Verizon Business Network Services’ American customers.
- NSA helps to fund the spying operations of Britain’s GCHQ.
- NSA has access a wide range of information stored on smartphones.
- NSA has been working to systematically influence encryption standards to enable it to access Internet users’ communications.
To see the full set of principles the coalition supports, visit www.reformgovernmentsurveillance.com.