Google, Microsoft lead tech coalition to limit government spying on their users

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After months of leaks and revelations about exactly how the US’ National Security Agency has been spying on everyone from presidents to casual Facebook users, it seems the tech giants have really had enough. In a bid to restore public trust, companies including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, AOL and LinkedIn have joined together to push governments worldwide into rethinking their security laws.

The tech elites have said that while they support efforts by governments to ensure the safety and security of their citizens, in recent times “the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual.” The group is hoping that the US will lead the way in revisiting laws and practices related to government surveillance and access to users’ private information. In an open letter to Washington, the coalition says it is seeking reform in five areas:

  • It says that governments should not have blanket authority to collect user information
  • It calls for more oversight and regulation regarding how information is collected, including an independent review process for requests
  • It is asking for more transparency around government requests so that users are aware of what their governments are asking for and why
  • It says information should be able to flow freely across geographical boundaries and the importance of this should be acknowledged
  • It calls for all governments to work together to protect the privacy of their citizens, regardless of the fact that their countries may have different laws.

The move is the latest in a series of attempts by tech giants to win back public trust after whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked documents showing how the NSA had been gathering information on their users. They are also beefing up security by encrypting data to prevent further unauthorised surveillance and making sure they only comply with government requests that are legal and reasonable in scope.

Even though they weren’t among the companies originally named as part of the PRISM programme, Twitter and LinkedIn have also added their voices to the calls for reform and limiting of online snooping. As Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith puts it, “people won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”

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