Government surveillance needs to be reformed, say Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others

Headlines about government surveillance of web usage all over the world have been difficult to avoid this past year. Since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on activities by the NSA, both companies and web users have been asking for greater transparency in data collection and there have been endless calls for dragnet data collection to be stopped completely. It is often the case that when confronted with a common enemy, some unlikely alliances are forged. This is certainly true with the NSA, and now Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL are all coming together to present a united front and push for legal reform.

The collective has written an open letter to President Obama and congress, warning that "the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual". There has been quite a backlash against the number of requests for data that the US government has made of companies, and the letter makes it clear that the eight companies that have joined forces are not happy:

For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure -- deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.

Microsoft has also said that there is a risk that consumers will be discouraged from using the internet. "People won’t use technology they don't trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it". A similar line is taken by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer who says: "Recent revelations about government surveillance activities have shaken the trust of our users, and it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world".

The letter invites President Obama to take a look at the Reform Government Surveillance website where the consortium calls for five principles to be put into action: Limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information, oversight and accountability, transparency about government demands, respecting the free flow of information, and avoiding conflicts among governments.

From these principles, it is clear that the companies not only want restrictions put in place, but also want to be allowed to tell their customers about requests for data made by government.

What do you make of this? How likely do you think it is that government will start to take notice now that eight big names are working together?

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