In the wake of government surveillance programs leaked by National Securities Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, major tech industry firms are forming a coalition and calling on governments worldwide – starting with the U.S. – to reform cyber-listening programs to respect personal privacy, according to an open letter released this morning.
Signed by AOL, Apple Inc. Facebook Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., LinkedIn Inc., Twitter Inc., and Yahoo Inc., the letter is addressed to the President of the United States and members of Congress. The letter says it’s time for change after the extent of the NSA’s PRISM program was made clear this summer, scooping up metadata from the public Internet and creating individual profiles based on that information. The tech firms promise to do their part by using encryption to prevent unauthorized surveillance and also to push back on government requests for information.
“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,” states the letter.
The tech coalition has also launched a new website, www.reformgovernmentsurveillance.com, outlining five principles they’d like to see governments commit to in their surveillance programs:
- Limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information
- Oversight and accountability
- Transparency about government demands
- Respecting the free flow of information
- Avoiding conflicts among governments
The firms involved in forming the coalition have been caught up in the story following the release of Snowden’s documents by The Guardian newspaper. The brands represent the most-visited destinations on the web and provide the type of services that would be ideal for the NSA to glean information from – email, social networking, web search, ecommerce, etc.
As reported by The Guardian Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft were among companies that received financial compensation for Prism-related activities. This was after an October 2011 ruling found some NSA operations in violation of the U.S. constitution’s fourth amendment. Documents name Google and Yahoo as “Prism providers” that are being transitioned to new certifications to comply with a court ruling. Tech firms have repeatedly denied providing any back-door access to their servers since Prism revelations became public in June.
How involved the Canadian wings of these tech companies will be in the new coalition isn’t clear. ITBusiness.ca is seeking comment from several of the member company’s Canadian offices. So far, LinkedIn has responded saying the U.S. government is the only focus of its effort right now. It provided this written statement attributed to Erika Rottenberg, general counsel, LinkedIn:
“These principles embody LinkedIn’s fundamental commitment to transparency and ensuring appropriate government practices that are respectful of our members’ expectations.”