Technology firms seek government surveillance reform

people on laptops There have been concerns over surveillance programmes in the US

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Leading global technology firms have called for "wide-scale changes" to US government surveillance.

Eight firms, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, have formed an alliance called Reform Government Surveillance group.

The group has written a letter to the US President and Congress arguing that current surveillance practice "undermines the freedom" of people.

It comes after recent leaks detailed the extent of surveillance programmes.

"We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide," the group said in an open letter published on its website.

"The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual - rights that are enshrined in our Constitution.

The fact that eight technology giants which are normally bitter rivals have united to condemn the extent of government surveillance shows just how strongly they feel.

In part, this reflects the libertarian thinking that permeates Silicon Valley - but there's also a commercial aspect to their concerns.

Around the world, consumers and governments have begun to question how safe it is to use American technology products, and in the words of Microsoft's signatory to the letter "People won't use technology they don't trust."

The companies have prided themselves on the security of their customers' data. Now they have had to concede that governments have wide access to that data - and they are vowing to use strong encryption to repair the holes in their defences.

But don't expect the intelligence agencies to sit back and do nothing - the scene is set for continuing conflict between the spies and Silicon Valley over control of the internet.

"This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for a change," it added.

Limited surveillance

The move by the eight firms comes after whistle-blower Edward Snowden leaked information about surveillance carried out by the US government.

Mr Snowden, an ex-US intelligence contractor, leaked documents to the media highlighting the various methods used by agencies to gather information.

The leaks have pointed to agencies collecting phone records, tapping fibre-optic cables that carry global communications and hacking networks.

Members of the group said the revelations indicated that the extent of surveillance needed to be controlled.

"Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information," said Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, the world's biggest social networking firm.

"The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right."

Art installation of an eye in Berlin

The scandal first came to light in June this year after the UK's Guardian newspaper published the first leaks by Mr Snowden.

Since then, there have been concerns over how much user data firms have been asked to share with the agencies.

In an attempt to allay such fears over data security, companies have called for permission to publish details of data requests.

"Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information," they state.

"In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly."

Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all confirmed they have complied with orders to hand over data relating to "national security matters" to the US authorities, but have been forbidden from saying exactly how many requests they had received or details about their scope.

Larry Page, chief executive of Google, said that security of users data was "critical" for firms, but added that the same had been "undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world".

The group called upon the government to give companies the rights to provide details of any such future data requests to their users,

"Transparency is essential to a debate over governments' surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers," it said.

"Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    Here's a a thought - stop putting so much personal data out there.

    Governments are not the only one's interested in your details, what you are doing, how you behave or what you say...

    All I.T. is susceptible to mis-use / monitoring. Wake up !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    A lot of people wrongly see this as a `security vs privacy` debate rather than a `liberty vs control` issue. As Cardinal Richelieu said, " If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged."

  • rate this

    Comment number 517.

    US current surveillance betrays personal freedom excused under the "catch-all" and convenient umbrella of anti-terrorism. Governments should globally meet to determine practice and acceptability of democracies and companies to access and invade personal details.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    A year ago people were saying they NSA were doing these things and they weren't believed (in fact many of the people saying they were doing things wouldn't have believed what they were actually doing).

    It's definately time to claw back some privacy and reign in rogue Goverment agencies, that are dancing around the letter of law rather abiding by the spirit of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    For all those arguing that these companies are gathering your information as well as the government. Please remember those terms and conditions which you have agreed to.Remember that little check box you ticked?
    The NSA/GCHQ has no opt in or out. No tick box saying I AGREE to share my emails, tweets, posts, location, Phone calls, internet searches & history with the US government.


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