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Cloud Companies Unite on NSA Transparency in Letter to Congress

Big U.S. tech companies are setting their rivalries aside to unite against a common problem -- the ongoing damage revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency are doing to their reputation for keeping customers' cloud data private and secure.

On Thursday, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo co-signed a letter to the sponsors of the USA Freedom Act calling for greater government transparency about legal demands for the companies' customer and user information and greater accountability for government surveillance. 

Dozens of lawmakers sponsored the USA Freedom Act, which was written by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and original Patriot Act author Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-WI. The bill, with 16 Senate co-sponsors and more than 70 House of Representatives co-sponsors, was introduced on Tuesday.

The legislation is aimed at limiting the phone record collection program and other government surveillance programs unveiled by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden over the last five months.

The tech companies, which were all signatories of an open letter to the Obama administration in July, as well, wrote to "applaud the sponsors of the USA Freedom Act for making an important contribution."

They urged the sponsors to ensure the legislation include several key provisions.

"Allowing companies to be transparent about the number and nature of requests will help the public better understand the facts about the governments' authority to compel technology companies to disclose user data and how technology companies respond to the targeted legal demands we receive," the letter stated.

While the letter called transparency a critical first step, it went on: "Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs."

The Leahy-Sensenbrenner bill is expected to encounter heavy resistance from the White House and from members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.

A copy of the letter posted by IDG News Service is available on Scribd.

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Posted by Scott Bekker on November 04, 2013 at 5:33 AM


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