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Tech Giants Publish Open Letter Seeking Surveillance Limits
Tech Giants Publish Open Letter Seeking Surveillance Limits

By Jennifer LeClaire
December 9, 2013 10:58AM

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"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," said the letter to President Obama and Congress. "The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual."
 


Some of the biggest names in Internet technology have penned an open letter to President Obama and members of Congress, warning that the National Security Agency's moves are harming public trust in the Internet.

"People won't use technology they don't trust," said Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."

Microsoft, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo signed the letter, which urges the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight.

"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 letter said. "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."

Five Principles

The companies went on to say that, for their part, they are focused on keeping users' data secure -- deploying 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 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," said Google CEO Larry Page. "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."

Five principles are suggested to the president and Congress: (1) limiting government's authority to collect users' information; (2) oversight and accountability; (3) transparency about government demands; (4) respecting the free flow of information; and (5) avoiding conflicts among governments.

"Twitter is committed to defending and protecting the voice of our users," said Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter. "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."

Staying True to Civil Liberties

We caught up with Joseph Lorenzo Hall, a senior staff technologist for the Center for Democracy & Technology, to get his thoughts on the open letter. He told us it's a significant development in the larger story.

"It also seems to endorse a lot of the principles in the leading bill out there, the USA Freedom Act. Ultimately this has to be boiled down to legislation of some sort," Hall said. "The U.S. isn't the only country doing these things, we just happen to be doing it at unprecedented scale and are the best at it."

As Hall sees it, the letter goes much farther than any individual organization or corporation has gone in calling for reform. He called it "amazing" how far the group of technology companies has gone, such as asking for judicial authorization for surveillance of foreigners.

"That's a pretty big ask," he said "But in order to stay true to our commitments to civil liberties and privacy we have to stop thinking of foreigners not having rights. That doesn't work on the Internet."
 

Tell Us What You Think
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Cry Wolf:

Posted: 2013-12-09 @ 2:41pm PT
"People won't use technology they don't trust". So what will people do when the Edward Snowden of the tech companies will reveal how intense their tracking is? Quite hypocritical to suggest principles to limit government surveillance while their own tracking and surveillance goes on unfettered.



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