Tech Giants Push For Government Surveillance Reform

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yahoo are some of the companies that have joined together in the wake of NSA leaks to support limits on access to users' information.

Eight technology giants are joining together to urge for the reform of practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information. The partnership, which Monday issued an open letter to President Obama and members of Congress and unveiled a set of reform principles on its website, comes after leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the intelligence agency has a way of collecting data on most online communications.

The eight companies are AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo. On the Reform Government Surveillance site, the companies said that while they understand governments need to protect their citizens' safety and security, they "strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed."

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"Consistent with established global norms of free expression and privacy and with the goals of ensuring that government law enforcement and intelligence efforts are rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight, we hereby call on governments to endorse the following principles and enact reforms that would put these principles into action," the companies write.

The tech giants' reform principles consist of limiting governments' authority to collect users' information, oversight and accountability, transparency about government demands, respecting the free flow of information and avoiding conflicts among governments.

The companies propose that governments should codify limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data, taking into account their need for data and users' privacy interests. Governments also should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, the tech giants argue. The companies insist that intelligence agencies seeking to obtain information should do so under a clear legal framework in which executive powers are subject to checks and balances, reviewing courts should be independent and rulings should be made public in a timely manner so the courts are accountable to informed citizens. Governments also should allow companies to promptly publish the number and nature of government demands for user information, the companies propose. The tech giants argue that governments should not inhibit companies or individuals' ability to lawfully access information stored outside of the country. The companies propose a framework that would allow for greater cooperation in lawful requests for data across various jurisdictions.

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The site features quotes from executives at all the tech giants except for Apple.

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 U.S. government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right."

Google CEO Larry Page adds: "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. 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 U.S. government to lead the way."

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The open letter, posted on the Reform Government Surveillance site, reads in part: "This summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. 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."

"For our part, we are focused on keeping users' data secure," the companies write, saying that they urge the U.S to take the lead and make reforms to ensure that government surveillance efforts are restricted by law, transparent and subject to independent oversight.

A shorter version of the open letter appeared in full-page ads in the Monday editions of print publications such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, Roll Call and The Hill, according to a Wall Street Journal report.