Facebook, Google others call for government snooping reforms

Eight United States-based technology companies are asking government around the world to alter their surveillance laws and practices.

They understand the need of governments to take action to protect their citizens’ safety and security, the companies said in an open letter U.S. President Barack Obama posted on a newly launched Web site called Reform Government Surveillance, The firms, which include AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo, they “strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed.

Since June this year, technology companies based in the U.S. have been linked to cyber snooping operations by the U.S. National Security Agency which was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Reports he leaked to the media indicated that the NSA had compelled some companies to provide the agency with access to the content of their servers. The report also said the agency developed backdoors to the systems of the companies and was tapping into the data centres of Google and Yahoo.

“The security of user data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information,” said Larry Page, CEO of Google, in a statement. “This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight…”

“The U.S. government should take the opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook.

The tech firms have denied complicity with the NSA. The companies also sought permission from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to be allowed to disclose information on security requests they received from the NSA for user data.

In their letter, the companies called on governments to endorse five principles and enact reforms that would put them into action:

  • Limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information
  • The need to put intelligence agencies seeking user information under a clear legal framework that ensures oversight and accountability
  • Better transparency on government demands. This would include allowing companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information
  • Respect for the free flow of information. Governments should permit the transfer of data and not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information stored outside of their country
  • To Avoid conflicting laws, a robust, principled and transparent framework that governs lawful request for data across jurisdictions such as a an improved mutual legal assistance treaty must be created

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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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