Information Age Giants Team Up To Tackle NSA Surveillance Crisis

on Monday, Dec. 9th

The revelations of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden are the gift that keep on giving. Today tech giants Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL and Linkedin issued an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress asking for the surveillance programs administered by the NSA to be reined in.

The companies outlined five principles based on a “strong” belief “that current laws and practices need to be reformed.”

The principles and much more after the jump.

The principles as outlined on Reform Government

Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information

Governments should codify sensible limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data that balance their need for the data in limited circumstances, users’ reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the Internet. In addition, governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications.

Oversight and Accountability

Intelligence agencies seeking to collect or compel the production of information should do so under a clear legal framework in which executive powers are subject to strong checks and balances. Reviewing courts should be independent and include an adversarial process, and governments should allow important rulings of law to be made public in a timely manner so that the courts are accountable to an informed citizenry.

Transparency About Government Demands

Transparency is essential to a debate over governments’ surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers. Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly.

Respecting the Free Flow of Information

The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust 21st century global economy. Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country. Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.

Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments

In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty — or “MLAT” — processes. Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict.

There’a an economic interest here, as the UK-based Guardian reports:

Several of the companies claim the revelations have shaken public faith in the internet and blamed spy agencies for the resulting threat to their business interests. “People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”

The Guardian notes that the five principles match up with proposed bi-partisan legislation that the chair of the Senate’s judiciary committee, Patrick Leahy (D) has proposed in conjunction with Patriot Act author Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R).

At least one NSA watchdog, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Jillian C. York doesn’t think the companies have gone far enough, as evidence on Twitter:


The “13 Principles” York refers to are those outlined in the EFF co-authored “International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance” which have been signed (so far) by an international roster of 323 organizations and 44 individuals identified as experts.

The open letter comes in concert with the latest revelations from the Snowden files. The NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ had online gaming from “World of Warcraft” to Xbox Live under surveillance for years. They even deemed monitoring Second Life worth spending taxpayer money on, which leads me to believe that there are far too many furries in the NSA. Like, humanitarian crisis levels of them.

While the impact of the latest Snowden leaks is more “ripple in the pond” than “cannonball in the kiddie pool” the continuing development of the total surveillance picture keeps the debate front and center.

In a society as technologically dependent as our own there is bound to be some level of electronic surveillance. That it took a series of leaks and disclosures of how entrenched surveillance became to spark a debate is proof that our dive into the information age has been more “blindfolded belly flop” than “swan dive.”


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