Tech firms finally call for NSA surveillance reforms

After months of mostly silence on the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection programs, which includes obtaining information of Americans’ phone calls and Internet records, leading tech firms have finally spoken out and launched a campaign for reform.

A half dozen firms — including Facebook, Google, Twiter, and Microsoft — have written letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress in which they explain that the federal government must reform laws to protect Americans’ privacy. The firms have also launched a website — — that outlines the principles of reform.

“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,” wrote the firms in the letter. “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,” the letter continues.

“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,” the firms added.

Better late than never.

There has been some criticism of these programs from tech companies, but they hadn’t said much about the need for limitations, as Politico pointed out in October, or anything resembling a significant response.

Until now, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, had been the most prominent tech guru to speak out on the issue. In September, he explained that the NSA’s snooping had hurt tech firms seeking to compete globally, adding that the government “bad job of balancing” civil liberties and security.

But even in Zuckerberg’s case, he has reserved his personal lobbying efforts on immigration reform, which would be a boon to tech companies seeking high-skilled labor from overseas.

The principles of the tech firms’ surveillance reform campaign including limiting limitations on the government’s ability to obtain users’ information, including ending the bulk data collection programs. They are also encouraging greater transparency, a restoration of check-and-balance, and increased oversight.

“The security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information,” said Google CEO Larry Page via the campaign’s website. “This is 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.”

The push for reform by leading tech firms comes as Congress debates legislation that would ostensibly codify the NSA surveillance programs and legalize bulk data collection. Privacy advocates from both parties have coalesced behind legislation authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) that would end the bulk data collection not related to actual terrorism investigations.

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