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Tech Giants Call on President, Congress To Reform Surveillance

In the final weeks of a year in which the inability of major U.S.-based technology companies to protect their customers' data from U.S. government snooping became apparent, those companies are making a public stand.

Microsoft and its peers launched an aggressive public relations campaign on Monday with an open letter to President Barack Obama and to the U.S. Congress. 

The short letter, signed by AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo, reads:

Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,

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 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.

For our part, we 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.

We urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight. To see the full set of principles we support, visit ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com.

The group recommends reforms through five principles:

  1. Limiting governments' authority to collect users' information.
  2. Oversight and accountability.
  3. Transparency about government demands.
  4. Respecting the free flow of information.
  5. Avoiding conflict among governments.

Revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began emerging over the summer and continue to trickle out (including an article Monday in The New York Times about U.S. government infiltration of online gaming communities, especially World of Warcraft and Second Life, but also including Xbox Live.)

U.S.-based tech companies have been doing the math and have become increasingly vocal about concerns that any appearance of collusion (coerced or voluntary) with the NSA will hurt their competitiveness in other countries. Already, some countries are imposing restrictions on the use of U.S.-based cloud providers.

For Microsoft, the open letter represents a second salvo in a week. Late last week, Microsoft announced plans to beef up and expand encryption across all of its services, to reinforce legal protections for customer data and to create new centers for governments to evaluate Microsoft's source code.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 09, 2013 at 11:52 AM