Tech Giants Push for Limits on Government Surveillance

Tech Giants Push for Limits on Government Surveillance
Sunshinepress/Getty ImagesNSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
By Chris Peters and Rohit T.K.

Eight major U.S. Web companies, including Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB), made a joint call Monday for tighter controls on how governments collect personal data, intensifying the furor over online surveillance.

In an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and Congress, the companies said recent revelations showed the balance had tipped too far in favor of the state in many countries and away from the individual.

In June, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden exposed top secret government surveillance programs that tap into communications on cables linking technology companies' various data centers overseas.

After Snowden's disclosure, many of the big Internet companies warned that American businesses may lose revenue abroad as distrustful customers switched to local alternatives.

"We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens," said the letter from the eight firms which also included Microsoft (MSFT), Twitter (TWTR), LinkedIn (LNKD), Yahoo (YHOO) and AOL Inc. (AOL) (publisher of this website).

"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. It's time for a change."

Several of the eight companies, which have a combined market capitalization of nearly $1.4 trillion, have responded by publicizing their decision to boost encryption and security on their sites.

Trust at Risk

The companies have detailed their Reform Government Surveillance campaign on a website, calling on the U.S. government to take the lead by limiting how much user information a government can collect.

"People won't use technology they don't trust,"
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said on the website. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."

The campaign also calls on governments to limit surveillance to specific, known users and not to collect data in bulk, and asks that companies have the right to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information.

"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," Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page said on the website.

"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 U.S. government to lead the way."

Obama last week said he intended to propose NSA reforms to reassure Americans that their privacy was not being violated by the agency.

British-based campaign group Big Brother Watch welcomed the move by the Internet groups and said surveillance laws in Britain, the U.S. and many other countries were no longer fit for the Internet age.

"This statement of principles, by some of the world's biggest companies, is a watershed moment and one that cannot go ignored in any country that regards itself as a democracy," it said.

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The NSA probably employs loads of foreign nationals on visas. That I think is a problem!

December 09 2013 at 5:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Remember GWB said go on the Internet and create your own business. Wouldn't be fair to now start taxing these small businesses only created because of people losing their jobs to the trade deals. Heck selling stuff on the big sites will cost you most of your profit in charges so a tax would put people out on the street in no time.

December 09 2013 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Tech companies are afraid the NSA will discover most of the visas for workers are fraudulent so they want to nip this surveilance in the bud.

December 09 2013 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


December 09 2013 at 1:41 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to onlyforreply's comment

They would sell your kitchen sink Online if they thought they weren\'t going to get caught. You don\'t get rich playing by the rules unless you win a lottery.

December 09 2013 at 4:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So much for the DO NOT CALL List. Funny thing I don't have any money to give them.

December 09 2013 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Iselin007's comment

dweed who the heck is rick?

December 09 2013 at 5:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

In a comprehensive letter to U.S. President Barack Obama…, enterprising corporate CEOs of our best and brightest companies, criticize the latest exposés which show the balance [of freedom from eavesdropping] has skewed far too far in favor of the state… and away from the individual who should expect and be confident that he has the right to be secure in his person, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, and that his right shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

December 09 2013 at 1:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

well, regardless of your views on mr. snowden, this does make for interesting discussion. the above comments from "the politicians' alone should tell you something about what is wrong with America these days. course, by the time the "silent majority" wakes from their slumber we might be saying.. too little, too late. now, if you really want to jump on a band-wagon, everyone should be up in arms about THEM wanting to tax all items sold on the internet !!! just food for thought. oh, about the above you really think sumone with power is gonna give up sum of their power??? really.

December 09 2013 at 12:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to thor55's comment

The tax is a begining because soon the tax will grow until is as large as the tax on cigarettes. I guess they figured if they tax the Internet they would not have to create good jobs to replace the ones that were outsourced under the trade deals.

December 09 2013 at 4:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It's a lovely ideological gesture . . . but completely meaningless. We are irreversibly enmeshed in the involuntary ubiquitous data grid. That's just the way it is.

December 09 2013 at 12:23 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
hi chet

I love all this righteous indignation about the NSA. Of course, if we have ANOTHER 9/11, THE SAME PEOPLE will be pitching a fit because the government didn\'t stop it. I\'m really sorry folks that the NSA is listening to your phone sex conversations but if they hear a conversation about planting a nuclear bomb in Baltimore I\'m kind of glad they are listening.

I don\'t like the fact that this has become necessary and IT IS NECESSARY. THEY AIN\'T DOING IT FOR FUN, YOU DORKS. Terrorists actually DEPEND on the stupidity of the American people.

And this is a PERFECT example.

The terrorists have won.

December 09 2013 at 12:18 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
hi chet

By all means. Let these GIANTS do all the snooping on people. As if they don\'t already.

December 09 2013 at 11:58 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

End the survalence. It violates the Constiturion. Impeach Obama!

December 09 2013 at 11:54 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jdykbpl45's comment
hi chet

Plese tell me where in the constitution it says I can\'t listen to conversations THAT YOU SHOUT INTO THE AIR! And why should we impeach Obama for something YOUR MAN BUSH STARTED.

Oh that\'s right, Bush could do no wrong and Obama can do no right.

Silly brian dead right wing zombie.

December 09 2013 at 12:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hi chet's comment

4th Amendment.

December 09 2013 at 2:55 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down