Tech companies confront Obama over NSA

Eight US technology companies, including Google, Apple and Microsoft, have written an open letter to president Barack Obama and the US congress calling for surveillance laws to be reformed in light of the scandal surrounding the National Security Agency. By Nafisa Akabor.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Eight leading American technology companies have joined forces to demand changes be made to US surveillance laws, calling for current laws and practices to be reformed in light of revelations of mass surveillance of Internet users’ activities by the National Security Agency (NSA).

In a letter, published online and in national newspapers, the companies, many of which are direct rivals, have come together to pressure the US government to make drastic changes in light of the mass surveillance of citizens’ private online data by the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ.

Details of the surveillance were revealed in a series of articles published in The Guardian newspaper and leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is now exiled in Russia.

The eight companies that have signed the letter are Microsoft, Google, Apple, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and AOL.

“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 companies say in their open letter. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour 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.”

The letter states further: “For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorised surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.”

The eight companies conclude the letter by saying: “We urge the US 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.”

They are angered at what has been revealed in the series of reports published this year in which it became clear that the NSA had direct access to the systems of Google, Apple, Facebook and others and had engaged in mass surveillance of metadata. The agency had access to millions of records through a system called Prism.

Several senior executives from these technology companies insisted that they never heard of Prism and, if they did, they would not have been involved in it, according to a report in The Guardian.

The mass surveillance programme was authorised by former US president George W Bush and renewed by Obama in December 2012. The law allows for online users to be monitored, whether they live inside or outside the US.

Google CEO Larry Page says that the security of users’ data is critical, which is why the online search giant is investing millions of dollars in encryption technology and fighting for greater transparency around government requests for information.

These efforts, says Page, are “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 US government to lead the way.”

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith says people won’t use technology they don’t trust. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer says that protecting the privacy of its users is “incredibly important” to Yahoo and recent revelations about government surveillance activities have “shaken the trust of our users”, and it is time for the US government to act to restore the confidence of people around the world.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says: “Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information. The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right.”  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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  • Robert MacLean

    Very awesome

  • Senorblinky

    Let’s say there is reform; how would they know if the NSA complied?

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