Eight of the biggest online tech firms have formed a campaign group calling for a major overhaul of the way the government uses the Internet for gathering intelligence. The group has urged President Obama and Congress to follow five principles to defend individual freedoms.
The “Reform Government Surveillance” group is made up of AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo. It has written an open letter to Obama and congressional members referring to the revelations made this summer after the leaking of documents by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The letter, which appears online and as an ad in several major newspapers, argues that:
“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… 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.”
The group’s website lists five principles that it believes are necessary in any government policy on Internet surveillance:
1) Legal restrictions that place limits on government data gathering, including only monitoring specific suspects rather than collecting data in bulk.
2) Oversight and accountability, including reviews by independent courts where both sides can make a case and where ruling are “made public in a timely manner.”
3) Companies should have the right to transparently publish information about the number and type of requests/demands they’ve had from the government to hand over data.
4) Governments should not block people from accessing data that is physically stored on servers in other countries.
5) Governments should work together to establish common legal principles governing online data, with a clear system for resolving cases where national laws contradict one another.
It’s notable that, although sparked by the NSA scandal, the list of principles are aimed at governments worldwide. That might be seen as easing the pressure on the Obama administration, but from another perspective it makes a striking point to lump together US issues (such as the secret courts overseeing security agencies) with those in countries such as China (where the different companies have responded in different ways to content restrictions and geoblocking.)