Eight giant Internet companies are demanding that the U.S. government re-evaluate its surveillance policies, and write new rules that take into account both national-security requirements and individual rights.
The eight – AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo – posted an open letter to the U.S. government at the Website ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com. “While the undersigned companies understand that governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety and security, we strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed,” read a copy of the letter that was reposted on iClarified.
“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.”
That change would involve limiting the ability of governments to collect personal information; the expansion of enforceable, effective oversight and accountability for intelligence or law-enforcement agencies; the ability of Internet companies to publish the number and type of surveillance requests they get; and a respect for the free flow of information without limitations based on geographic borders.
The letter also suggested the establishment of an international treaty or conference to establish “a robust, principled and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions” to keep national laws from conflicting with one another.
While the letter focuses on the rights of individuals and frequent violations by the National Security Agency (NSA) of the rules governing legal surveillance, it also makes clear that the companies are defending their markets as well as the rights of their customers. It urges governments to establish “sensible limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data,” for example.
“People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” wrote Microsoft general counsel and Executive Vice President Brad Smith in a blog posted Dec. 8. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”
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