A coalition of eight technology companies including Google, Yahoo, and Facebook have launched a campaign to reform government surveillance programs, pushing back on perceptions that these companies voluntarily hand over widespread access to users’ private data.
Launched this morning, the website ReformGovernmentSurviellance.com, outlines several principles the companies are seeking.
“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,” the group wrote in a letter to President Obama and members of Congress. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish.”
“It’s time for a change.”
The five principles include limiting government’s authority to collect user information, greater oversight over the process of requesting this information, increased transparency about government requests, allowing data to move across borders freely, and establishing a framework to prevent conflicts among governments.
Additional partners in the effort include AOL, Apple, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Twitter.
The CEOs of Google and Facebook have been particularly aggressive in pushing back against the perception that their companies have given the government a “back door” into the personal information of their users.
“Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information,” wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right.”
The tactical offensive on the part of these companies comes after revelations about the scope of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs have continued months after the most explosive ones were revealed in documents leaked by a former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Since then, Obama has said that he will move to reform parts of the NSA’s activities, even while insisting that the programs are operating within the law and by and large without abuses.
“NSA actually does a very good job about not engaging in domestic surveillance, not reading people’s emails, not listening to their — the contents of their phone calls,” Obama told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in an interview last week.
His statement on the subject has largely remained the same since the revelations first emerged.
“But I want everybody to be clear: The people at the NSA generally are looking out for the safety of the American people,” Obama continued. “They are not interested in reading your emails.”