Monday, December 09, 2013

Tech luminaries form coalition, ask for new limits on government surveillance

Eight prominent tech giants have joined forces and started the Reform Government Surveillance coalition. The coalition hit the Internet, so to speak, with a website and mission statement, on Sunday (via Venture Beat).

The firms involved are luminaries in the tech industry. They are (alphabetically) AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo. The Reform Government Surveillance coalition is a public campaign that aims -- in the wake of numerous revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden -- to the administration and Congress to set new limits on government surveillance.

The coalition website reads:
The undersigned companies believe that it is time for the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information.

While the undersigned companies understand that governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety and security, we strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed.

Consistent with established global norms of free expression and privacy and with the goals of ensuring that government law enforcement and intelligence efforts are rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight, we hereby call on governments to endorse the following principles and enact reforms that would put these principles into action.
One interesting point is that the Apple logo does not appear under the above message. It does, however, appear at the end of an open letter, sent to the President and Congress, further down on the home page of the site. It is unclear, therefore, if Apple is a member of the coalition or just a signatory.

According to the website, the principles the coalition wants used are the following:
  • Governments’ authority to collect users data should be limited
  • There should be more oversight and accountability
  • Government demands for information should be transparent
  • The “free flow” of information should be respected
  • Governments need to work with each other to protect their citizens’ privacy to prevent conflicts over differing laws
Messages from CEOs or other high-level excutives were included on the page. Again, Apple was conspicuously absent. Those who wrote blurbs were:
  • Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, AOL
  • Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook
  • Larry Page, CEO, Google
  • Erika Rottenberg, General Counsel, LinkedIn
  • Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft
  • Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter
  • Marissa Mayer, CEO, Yahoo
The open letter to the Obama administration and Congress concludes with the following statement:
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.
Again, Apple signed the open letter, but its logo does not appear among coalition members.

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