Eight of the world’s largest technology companies have combined efforts to launch a website called “Reform Government Surveillance,” designed to expose and counter governmental violations of people’s privacy.
The companies are AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Linkedln, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo. An open letter from the eight companies, posted on their website and addressed to the president and members of Congress, acknowledged that governments “have a duty to protect their citizens,” but said that “[last] summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.”
As Reuters noted December 9, the “revelations” referred to the exposure last June by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden of top secret government surveillance programs that tap into communications cables linking technology companies’ various data centers overseas.
After Snowden’s disclosure, observed Reuters, many large Internet companies warned that U.S. businesses might lose revenue abroad as customers wary of such surveillance switch to nonU.S. alternatives.
The companies’ open letter to federal officials warned: “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.”
In order to keep their users’ data secure, said the statement, the companies would deploy “the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and [push] back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.”
The Washington Post, in a December 8 article, called the Reform Government Surveillance website an “uncommonly unified front” in that companies that “compete fiercely on business matters” have cooperated in opposing unchecked government surveillance. This cooperation, noted the Post, “underscored the deep alarm among technology leaders over revelations that the National Security Agency has collected user data far more extensively than the companies understood, in many cases with little or no court oversight.”