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 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."
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The companies didn't say how much they're spending on the effort or how it came about. But they are launching a website, ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com, 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.)
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