Google, Microsoft, Silicon Valley Giants Demand Rollback of out-of-control NSA Spying

By Andrea Germanos

In an open letter to President Obama and members of Congress, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo, write:

We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. 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.

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.

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. To see the full set of principles we support, visit ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com

“People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it," Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, is quoted as saying.

Jesselyn Radack, National Security and Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization, highlighted the importance of the document, tweeting on Monday: "It speaks volumes when 8 arch-rival tech giants ban together to limit govt #surveillance."

In addition to the letter, the Reform Government Surveillance site outlines five reform principles the groups are calling on governments to endorse: 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.

In regards to the transparency about government demands principle, Ars Technica points out that

This isn't the first time some of these companies have collaborated to change the government's spying process. In September, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo "petitioned the notoriously secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for the right to be more specific on the types of legal requests it receives from the government," as we reported at the time.

"It speaks volumes when 8 arch-rival tech giants ban together to limit govt #surveillance."
—Jesselyn Radack, Government Accountability Project
While Apple is listed as a signatory to the open letter, its name does not appear with the others prefacing the five principles.

The document from the tech giants "comes as some of the very signatories to the letter are criticized over their data collection practices, which have led to increasing concerns over privacy," Al Jazeera America reports:

This latest gesture comes as some of the very signatories to the letter are criticized over their data collection practices, which have led to increasing concerns over privacy. Google, for example, was fined in September for not complying with the French government's request for specific information on the data it collects from users. The search giant has also faced challenges to its Street View mapping project, acknowledging in March that it had violated people's privacy. Facebook, with its Graph search feature, has been criticized for the way it mines user data. Apple too has been scrutinized.

For some privacy advocates, the companies' statements represent a good stand, but mark only part of what must be done on an international level to end mass surveillance.

Mike Rispoli of Privacy International welcomed the announcement from the tech giants, writing, "The launch of these industry principles today are a first step to restoring much of the trust in the industry that has been thrown into question since the release of the Snowden documents." He adds, "It is time for drastic changes to how intelligence is regulated, conducted and overseen, and we welcome these companies' contribution to this debate."

Yet more must be done on an international scale, Rispoli continues:

Given the global scale of these industries and the infrastructure and services they administer, we need reforms that protect all people and not just the US citizens who use these companies’ services. Privacy is a universal right, enshrined in international law, and must be protected, respected, and upheld as such. We need common standards that apply to all data held by US companies, not rules that afford different protections to individuals depending on their citizenship.

We also need to bring to this debate the telecommunication companies that operate the infrastructure of our communications, and those who build the technologies that allow surveillance to take place. They are equally responsible for raising the bar and pushing back against the encroachment of intelligence agencies into our private communications. Their silence is particularly noted.

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Mirrored from Commondreams.org

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Related Video

CNN reports on the tech giants’ pushback against NSA:

8 Responses

  1. I would take anything this companies do with a grain of salt. This latest round of “complaints” to the government about their spying comes only because they are losing money. Until their bottom line was effected, they didn’t say much. And as the article mentioned, Google is a privacy violator of the first sort. I would at this at public grandstanding to save face. We as individuals need to pressure our government to end this. Unfortunately, a recent poll showed that over half of Americans still think it is ok what the government is doing.

  2. The end result of this is likely to be the government announcing: “The NSA will not (get caught) spy on ordinary Americans”. Then everything will die down and nothing will change.

    The essential problem is that the many good patriotic Americans who work at the NSA and know that what they are doing are wrong; nevertheless they rationalize it because of the war. This rationalization is happening in this war as it did in past wars. We rationalized interning Japanese Americans in WWII. We rationalized persecuting German Americans in WWI. We probably cannot stop it. War is like that.

    What we can stop is these wars. If there were no war then there would be much more institutional resistance inside the NAS against illegal activities. Of course we must work to reining in the NSA and cut its budget but it is probably more important to end these wars.

    • Your forgetting how Obama treated Drake who blew the whistle on illegal NSA practices years ago. Same with Snowden. Out of millions and millions who work in this establishment, so far there’s only been a tiny handful to have had the courage to come forward. As the economy tanks even more, expect even that small number to become even smaller as everyone is scrambling to preserve their jobs they have now.

  3. As a retired adman, the suicide of American companies floors me today. How could they be so stupid? It takes years & million$ to build a brand; yet a cinch to lose overnight. That these culprits went along with NSA was mistake #1, but their follow-up even more horrendous. They tried to rationalize their crime. This opens the flood gates to say, a Swiss company promising security for $5 a month; if they cheat and get caught, you get $50,000. Wal-Mart Black Friday would look like a morgue in comparison. I remember vividly a high school teacher publically humiliating me in class not understanding how “built in obsolesce” is a friend of labor. By the time I was working, Japan/Europe had 40% of the US car market. Tell that rubbish to Detroit today!
    ps I like ‘My Comment’ above. Wars do not ‘make money’ in the long run. At 68yo, I’ve visited many Roman & Greek ruins. Nice places for the day, but I wouldn’t want to spend the night there…

  4. These companies are not at all concerned about spying on citizens; it is their business. Bamford noted in 2003 that Microsoft and NSA built adjacent office complexes in Texas to facilitate closer cooperation in spying upon Microsoft users. The others do the same.

    They have all promoted central “cloud” data storage, which contradicts the long trend toward vastly cheaper and larger local computer memory which has brought us so much speed and convenience. Cloud storage has exactly one value and that is getting your data in the best place for commercial and government spying.

    None of these companies. nor the government, nor the courts (FISA or otherwise) nor the politicians care in the least for constitutional rights: they expect to protect themselves with money and connections, not rights. Try enforcing any constitutional right in federal court without money or connections (or a large angry group) behind you and you will agree. If you win they will gut the decision on the next round.

    The public morality and concern for the ideals claimed by the nation has long been inadequate to prevent abuses like this, or we would not have economic concentrations in control of mass media and elections. The ignorant believe that the courts are Santa Claus, and that government does what it should, because they want to believe it. As H.L.Mencken said “The average man avoids the truth as diligently as he avoids arson, regicide, or piracy on the high seas, and for the same reason: because he believes that it is dangerous, that no good can come of it, and that it doesn’t pay.”

  5. Most people commenting on this topic suffer from the delusion they can speak objectively. They cannot. We are all on the inside, looking out. Same with the government. In fact, I think the main reason they are so pro-spying-on-everything is they cannot see the big picture, and frantically search for meaning, trends, solutions to occurrences that have no meaning (yet), changes that are not yet trends, and solutions to occurrences that are not yet problems, or have already become predicaments.

    They ignore the following insight at their peril.

    The ability to monitor us all individually, to use data mining to predict damaging probabilities, to track our locations 24/7, to know who our friends are – all our friends, and so on and so on, changes the fundamental human dynamic that we are individuals. Instead, we become worker bees in a hive.

    This will not have the chance to affect our evolution, of course, because other trends, trends that the data miners cannot see because there is no data, only theory, mean that humanity is rapidly approaching a choke hold also known as climate change. The irony is the only ones to survive will be those whom will be deemed unsuitable for the ultimate police state.

    It’s all so laughable, or would be if it weren’t so tragic.

    • Post Script

      The weakest justification for any behavior is “because I can.”

      This is not freedom, but rather slavery without reason.

  6. Hostile foreign elements don’t fall upon us because they dislike the cut of our jib or the nature of our spiritual lives. That would be far too expensive and dangerous. They have lives to live and families to care for like anyone else. They attack us because of noxious things we do in their parts of the world.

    Those who, for example, attempt to convince us that we must war against Islam per se (!) because its adherents have terror in their very blood streams are deranged or have interests which conflict with ours. A primary source of it is, excuse me for saying so, Israeli hasbara, i.e., propaganda. The purpose is quite simply to keep us embroiled militarily in their drive to be a dominant regional power with sole possession of nuclear weapons.

    But why on earth should those be American goals? From our perspective they’re prima facie absurd. We can’t possibly benefit from their attainment.

    For the most part we create the hostile animus and thus the terror ourselves, needlessly. We then set about oppressing our own people to defend against them. The circle is vicious indeed.

    We’ll never be completely without potentially violent adversaries, but it’s in our interests to make far fewer of them and to make none needlessly.

    The classic example of our folly is how we went about squandering the ‘peace dividend’ at the end of the Cold War by immediately becoming embroiled in the Middle-East. In sum it was and remains breathtakingly stupid when viewed in light of our actual interests. Thanks to Juan we now know that we’ve squandered eight trillion in our effort to “secure” the Persian Gulf region. That’s not chump change. For whom and why did we engage in the struggle? For ourselves? Hardly. Had we declined the honor it would have prevented the accumulation of our present foreign accounts problem at a single stroke. We were sold a bill of goods without full disclosure in reliance on the essential provincialism of the American people. We bought it and it was a disaster for all of us. For whom and why was it done? Perhaps we should leave that for another time. But it’s critical that we think about it if we’re going to choose the correct path going forward.

    There are obvious places to begin in changing our attitude toward the outside world. The first is to indirectly impose a settlement on the Israelis, i.e., with appropriate sugar coating to bring them to heel. Their understanding of their own interests is even inferior to ours.

    The way we act out our missionary impulses must be reconsidered. Stephen Walt for Secretary of State precisely because, though a clear-eyed realist, he is not an isolationist.

    We need to reconsider our default determination to project military power on a global scale without a palpable need for it. Plans and simultaneous funding for two or three front foreign wars?! Ridiculous. We’re the only people in the entire world who do such things. Our paranoid attitude toward national defense is killing us.

    It’s pretty mundane. The business of America is business and the quality of life of our people. Success in these rather than the squandering of our substance in unnecessary foreign military adventures is where real power and influence comes from. Not one of the world’s other great powers does what we do militarily, not even in proportion to their populations. Accordingly it is obvious that WE don’t have to do it either. Is that isolationism? Not any more than what is practiced by our great power peers. We need a fundamental reassessment of how to run our foreign affairs.

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