Leading tech companies make joint call for surveillance reform

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In the latest collaborative effort to impede government surveillance practices that undermine users' privacy rights, the country's leading tech companies have formed a coalition for reform.

On Monday, eight companies – which include tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft – published an open letter to President Obama and Congress pushing the country's leaders to “ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight."

AOL, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and LinkedIn were also a part of the call, which aims to support five major principles going forward.

The companies requested that the government's authority to collect users' data be limited to “specific, known users for lawful purposes,” as opposed to inclusive bulk data collection practices. In addition, the need for transparency regarding government demands for consumer information was championed, along with improvements that would ensure government oversight and accountability.

The firms also offered that governments should “permit the transfer of data,” and not deter companies' and individuals' access to “lawfully available information” in foreign countries.

Lastly, the group argued that there should be a transparent framework that governs data requests made across governments, in order keep conflict at bay.

“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens,” said the open letter. “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.”

The call from the major tech players comes soon after Microsoft announced last Wednesday that it aimed to further ensure data security for its customers, namely by enhancing encryption across its services and reinforcing legal protections over customer information.

Furthermore, in the wake of leaks revealing the National Security Agency's role in undermining methods for hardening internet communications, Twitter revealed late last month that it enabled “forward secrecy” to better protect traffic on twitter.com, api.twitter.com and mobile.twitter.com.

In a Sunday blog post, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs, reinforced the global impact the concerted move would have.

“Although many recent revelations have focused on the U.S. government, in reality this is a global issue,” Smith wrote. “It requires coordinated steps to ensure the flow of information across borders and avoid conflicts between governments.

“By definition, the world needs a global discussion. Especially given this context, we hope our industry's suggestions can be of help,” he said.

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