WASHINGTON -- Eight leading U.S.-based technology companies today called on Washington to overhaul its surveillance laws following the revelations of online eavesdropping from fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
Apple (IW 500/4), Facebook, Google, Microsoft (IW 500/16), Twitter, Yahoo, AOL and LinkedIn wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress calling on Washington to lead the way in a worldwide reform of state-sponsored spying.
"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 letter states. "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."
The companies added: "We urge the U.S. 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."
Since June, newspapers across the world have revealed the wide scope of government spying by publishing classified documents leaked by Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency contract analyst now on the run in Russia.
The letter ran in full-page ads in several newspapers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.
The group, which include companies that are often fierce rivals, further detailed their security concerns on the website Reform Government Surveillance.
The Center for Democracy & Technology, a digital rights activist group, endorsed the letter.
"The company reform principles go far beyond earlier calls for greater transparency and embrace reforms that would provide important protections for all Internet users, regardless of their citizenship or location," said Leslie Harris, president and chief executive of the group. "The principles' flat rejection of massive bulk collection of Internet data globally and clear demand for transparent judicial authorization for surveillance programs go to the heart of unchecked government surveillance."
Ed Black of the Computer and Communications Industry Association also welcomed the push.
"The surveillance reform principles laid out today are vital for 21st century communications and trade," Black said in a statement. "We are seeing more than ever that the Internet is the world's modern shipping lane, a key to global economic growth and the empowerment of billions. These principles will help preserve a more free, secure, resilient and less Balkanized global information network."
The Marketing Angle
The tech companies may also fear that increased security concerns will hurt their own ability to track customers for marketing purposes.
"People won't use technology they don't trust," said Microsoft's Brad Smith. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said that revelations of government surveillance meant "it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world".
"Unchecked, undisclosed government surveillance inhibits the free flow of information and restricts their voice," wrote Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.
For Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, reports of government surveillance show "there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information".
"The security of users' data is critical," wrote Google CEO Larry Page. "This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world."
Leaders of the tech giants have five principles that guide their request: limiting government authority to collect user information; increase oversight and accountability of intelligence activities; more transparency concerning government demands for information; respect for the free low of information across borders; and a call for a framework to govern information requests between countries.
President Barack Obama earlier in the year ordered a sweeping review of U.S. intelligence community procedures.
Russia has granted Snowden temporary asylum. He is wanted by U.S. authorities for leaking thousands of classified documents.
Over the past six months Snowden's leaks to selected newspapers have shown a massive scale spying by U.S. and other intelligence agencies, often eavesdropping on their own allies.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013