Technology firms seek government surveillance reform

people on laptops There have been concerns over surveillance programmes in the US

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Leading global technology firms have called for "wide-scale changes" to US government surveillance.

Eight firms, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, have formed an alliance called Reform Government Surveillance group.

The group has written a letter to the US President and Congress arguing that current surveillance practice "undermines the freedom" of people.

It comes after recent leaks detailed the extent of surveillance programmes.

"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 group said in an open letter published on its website.

"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.

The fact that eight technology giants which are normally bitter rivals have united to condemn the extent of government surveillance shows just how strongly they feel.

In part, this reflects the libertarian thinking that permeates Silicon Valley - but there's also a commercial aspect to their concerns.

Around the world, consumers and governments have begun to question how safe it is to use American technology products, and in the words of Microsoft's signatory to the letter "People won't use technology they don't trust."

The companies have prided themselves on the security of their customers' data. Now they have had to concede that governments have wide access to that data - and they are vowing to use strong encryption to repair the holes in their defences.

But don't expect the intelligence agencies to sit back and do nothing - the scene is set for continuing conflict between the spies and Silicon Valley over control of the internet.

"This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for a change," it added.

Limited surveillance

The move by the eight firms comes after whistle-blower Edward Snowden leaked information about surveillance carried out by the US government.

Mr Snowden, an ex-US intelligence contractor, leaked documents to the media highlighting the various methods used by agencies to gather information.

The leaks have pointed to agencies collecting phone records, tapping fibre-optic cables that carry global communications and hacking networks.

Members of the group said the revelations indicated that the extent of surveillance needed to be controlled.

"Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information," said Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, the world's biggest social networking firm.

"The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right."

Art installation of an eye in Berlin

The scandal first came to light in June this year after the UK's Guardian newspaper published the first leaks by Mr Snowden.

Since then, there have been concerns over how much user data firms have been asked to share with the agencies.

In an attempt to allay such fears over data security, companies have called for permission to publish details of data requests.

"Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information," they state.

"In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly."

Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all confirmed they have complied with orders to hand over data relating to "national security matters" to the US authorities, but have been forbidden from saying exactly how many requests they had received or details about their scope.

Larry Page, chief executive of Google, said that security of users data was "critical" for firms, but added that the same had been "undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world".

The group called upon the government to give companies the rights to provide details of any such future data requests to their users,

"Transparency is essential to a debate over governments' surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers," it said.

"Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 545.

    "Sally the Rothbardian
    The common law worked pretty well until MPs started legislating in their wealthy donors' favour"

    How does the common law act to ensure we follow good and safe practice driving cars? Isn't prevention (by codifying rules of best practice) better than legal rectification (though it fills the pockets of lawyers), especially if you're dead? There are lots of other examples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    That's rich coming from Google - given the large amounts of personal data that they gathered illegally with their Streets software............

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    Monitoring the interweb is really's not like there are companys that do that for a living...

    The issue here for me has always been that the people telling us we have nothing to fear if we have nothing to hide, are busy hiding this from us...

  • rate this

    Comment number 542.

    If you fall back on the excuse that mass surveillance is to prevent a possible terrorist attack, that doesn't hold up, why?

    Because the boston marathon bombing suspects were known about by the FBI & CIA and warned about by russian government - and they didn't stop them

    if they don't prevent an attack when they were surveilling known suspects, mass surveillance cannot be for that reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    If the state is the people, then everything the state finds out should be considered to be everything that the people find out. I.e. it should all be published openly or not searched for at all.

    If the state is an agent of the people, then if we ask the state to search for this information, it should then be communicated to us.

    If people are an agent of the state, then we can keep on doing this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    522.Sally the Rothbardian
    The common law worked pretty well until MPs started legislating in their wealthy donors' favour.
    Only if the Courts were accessible to ordinary people and the Judges were free from certain influences. After all, who appointed the judges in the first place?

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    Here's a a thought - stop putting so much personal data out there.

    Governments are not the only one's interested in your details, what you are doing, how you behave or what you say...

    All I.T. is susceptible to mis-use / monitoring. Wake up !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    Just now
    Maybe these tech firms will tell the BBC to stop spamming the news with nelson mandela, we've had enough of it. I think news of innocent people being spied on in this country by america is alot more important than the top news article of what nelsons mandela family did before he died.


    Despite all the advertising, I never did get my "Free Nelson Mandela"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    You'll get no disagreement from me that the cost to access the state monopoly of "justice" has soared.

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    I don't see the argument that security services should not be allowed to collect bulk data to aid the search for illegal activities simply because they might read an email or message that someone couldn't be bothered to encrypt.

    If you really care about something secure it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    Maybe these tech firms will tell the BBC to stop spamming the news with nelson mandela, we've had enough of it. I think news of innocent people being spied on in this country by america is alot more important than the top news article of what nelsons mandela family did before he died.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    490: Luddite1811

    These (armed forces and the police) are State institutions designed to protect The State, not you and me.

    "The State" is an abstract and a collective concept: it includes its citizens, their way of life and their freedoms, etc. You want to jeopardise all that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    I am sick to death of hearing 'this is for terrorism reasons' or we do this to catch paedo's, all smoke screens for the ultimate reason, complete control of our freedom.

    Utter paranoid governments are running our world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    They'll just say it's reformed then go back to doing what they are doing again.

    How is the U.S.a going to be Israel's lap dog if it can't spy on all the people that hate Israel....which is everyone but a few Daily Mail readers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    520.The Bloke

    So basically you're saying that we wouldn't have the government snooping on us & reduce national issues if we deported all non-whites & non-Christians?

    Please correct me if I'm wrong, but that's certainly the opinion you are giving.

    I'm afraid to ask what tache you went for in Movember!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    Welcome all to 1984 .

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    A lot of people wrongly see this as a `security vs privacy` debate rather than a `liberty vs control` issue. As Cardinal Richelieu said, " If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged."

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    500. farkyss

    I meant to add.

    Just look at the " old boy network " in full swing on here and the" clique " in full mode.

    You couldn't make it up could you.

    The carpet crawlers and fully paid up members of the general boot licking glitterati are alive and well throughout this shambles of a society we endure in the modern age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    Its quite funny really. For years ppple were labelled paranoid or crazy for feeling the gov (US but any other) was spying on them, keeping tabs on their movements with "project echelon" tracking people via various means. And guess what??? They were, with simpler things like mobile phones and email/web browser access. It doesnt seem so stupid now that Ed Snowden confirmed this with more to come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    Not as early as he predicted and not quite as bleak but George Orwell's predictions are fast becoming fact. We are a small step away from the concept of thought crime.

    Democracy is a sham. We're merely given the periodic ability to choose the face of the puppets that the corporate elite use to monitor and enslave us in increasingly meaningless jobs for less and less money.


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