Tech giants band together for NSA reform

Eight leading technology companies -- bitter rivals in some cases -- are pushing the White House and members of Congress to rein in government surveillance.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 9, 2013 11:35AM

The Wall St. Journal on MSN MoneyBy Danny Yadron, The Wall Street Journal

Eight U.S. technology giants are making a joint appeal to reform government surveillance activities, following a stream of disclosures about actions by the National Security Agency.

Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB), Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Twitter (TWTR), Yahoo (YHOO), LinkedIn (LNKD) and AOL (AOL) -- bitter rivals in some cases --are issuing an open letter to President Obama and members of Congress along with a set of reform principles to better safeguard the information of Internet users. (Microsoft owns and publishes MSN Money.)

A shorter version of the open letter is appearing in full-page ads in the Monday editions of several print publications, including The New York Times and several D.C.-focused newspapers, including the Washington Post, Politico, Roll Call and The Hill.

"This summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide," the ad reads in part. "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."

The companies didn't say how much they're spending on the effort or how it came about. But they are launching a website,, and distributing quotes from the executives of the companies involved -- including Google CEO Larry Page, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel.

"People won't use technology they don't trust," Smith said. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."

Leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have shown the intelligence agency has a variety of ways to collect data on most Web communications. Some methods require the companies to knowingly cooperate with court orders for specific user records. In other cases, the companies may not know information has been intercepted, such as when the NSA has obtained data traveling between some U.S. companies' data centers former U.S. officials have said.

Tech companies in the past have said they only help the government to the extent they're required to by law. They have pushed to be able to more freely discuss the types of requests they receive from the government. In some cases, they have discussed plans to step up use of encryption to counter government interception of their data traffic.

Along with the open letter, the companies are distributing five reform principles that they are asking governments to adopt. For example, the companies say governments should "limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications."

They also propose more independent national security oversight, greater freedom to publicize government records requests and not require Internet firms to locate servers onshore, all things they've lobbied for in the past.

(Brazil is debating legislation that would require data on Brazilians to be stored in Brazil.)

More from The Wall Street Journal:

Dec 9, 2013 2:38PM
It comes down to "acceptance".  Acceptance that anything you communicate via electronic means can be captured and deciphered.  Did you ever shop on line?  Or, search for information online?  Then, suddenly you are getting phone calls and emails regarding the items you were looking at, or the subject you were researching?  Well, I don't think that is the NSA.  That is the doing of these "tech" companies spying on us.  They, excuse the term, "profile" us and then inundate us with their ads/sales pitches.  When it comes to internet/electronic security, its not only the NSA that needs changes.  You are even tracked in retail stores so they can determine consumer interests in the products they sell.  We are even tracked by satellite.  35 years ago I talked to an employee of NASA.  I was informed that their satellites could zoom down and read the label of a pack of cigarettes laying on the ground.  It all started a long time ago and is much, much more prevalent than we all realize.
Jan 27, 2014 7:05PM
However for governments to be using data received and using to persecute individuals in a court of law is atrocious and completely a breach of our privacy and rights granted under the bill of rights. The first amendment grants us the right of free speech however even that is monitored. Check out this link and you will see exactly what I mean.  I work for one of the companies mentioned in this article and personally I see the companies use of personal data and access to it very secure. For example call Xbox customer support and try to access account information without proving who you are. Microsoft has the right idea on protecting customers rights. I support this idea that the government does not need to have any information unless it is in direct threat of national security. Like someone's sexual orientation provides a threat to our country?
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