The U.S. government’s mass-scale surveillance program which has compromised the security and privacy of millions of domestic and foreign online users, the secret PRISM initiative, did not sit well with Apple and other technology giants. In response to the scandalous revelations by the NSA contractor Edward Snowden that also put the blame on Silicon Valley giants for bowing to NSA’s request and providing the agency with hassle-free access to its users’ data, the iPhone maker chastised the practice and published how it handles government requests to give up private information belonging to its users.
And now, in the aftermath of the ongoing snooping scare, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple along with seven other U.S. technology giants is making a joint appeal to reform government surveillance activities…
Danny Yadron, reporting for the Journal writes that Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn and AOL banded together to pen an open letter to President Obama and members of Congress, pushing for a set of reforms to protect the privacy and security of online users.
They even published full-page ads in the Monday editions of several print publications, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico, Roll Call and The Hill.
An excerpt from the ad’s copy reads:
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.
Part of the initiative is a website at reformgovernmentsurveillance.com which contains quotes from Google CEO Larry Page, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Microsoft’s chief lawyer Brad Smith.
The web page quotes Larry Page as reaffirming that Google has invested in encryption, underscoring his company fights for transparency around government requests for information in response to the snooping revelations.
“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,” Page said.
“People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” said Microsoft’s top lawyer. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it”.
“Recent revelations about government surveillance activities have shaken the trust of our users, and it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer wrote.
“Today we join our colleagues in the tech industry calling on the United States Congress to change surveillance laws in order to ensure transparency and accountability for government actions,” she said.
An open letter these companies collectively addressed to Washington reads:
Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,
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 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.
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. To see the full set of principles we support, visit ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com
AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo
The tech titans want to limit governments authority to collect users’ information and bulk data collection of Internet communications and are pushing for greater accountability. “Reviewing courts should be independent and include an adversarial process, and governments should allow important rulings of law to be made public in a timely manner so that the courts are accountable to an informed citizenry,” the website reads.
They’re also asking for greater transparency by demanding that the government allow tech companies to publish the precise number and nature of government demands for user information. The initiative insists that the government permit the free flow of data by not requiring service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders and avoid conflicting laws by improving the mutual legal assistance treaty — or “MLAT” — processes.
“Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict,” the demands read.
Back in August, President Obama met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and other tech CEOs to discuss government surveillance practices. Obama eventually publicized four initiatives meant to assuage concerns among Americans and foreigners regarding the legality of U.S. surveillance activities.