In October, the tech industry’s biggest companies petitioned congress to reform the US Government’s surveillance policies. Now, the firms are taking their pleas global. Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo and AOL (Engadget’s parent company) have banded together to ask the world’s governments to reassess its intelligence practices. This time, however, the firms are presenting more than a strongly worded letter – they’ve laid out five core reform principals, detailed both on an official website and in full-page ads in national publications.
The breakdown is fairly straightforward; the group asks that government’s authority be imposed with “sensible limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data,” and that they give more consideration to the link between privacy and trust required by technology providers and their users. The group is also demanding increased oversight, accountability and transparency, outlining a system that allows companies to publish the nature and frequency of user information requests and attached to a “clear legal framework” with “strong checks and balances.” Governments outside of the US are encouraged to work together too, to create a “robust, principled and transparent framework” to guide requests for data across jurisdictions. The group of tech giants also wants these changes to respect the flow of information, and ensure that service providers are able to build infrastructure on a global scale, without needing to store data inside the country for the sake of national government inquiries.
“Unchecked, undisclosed government surveillance inhibits the free flow of information.” Twitter CEO Dick Costolo writes on the movement’s website. “The principles we advance today would reform the current system to appropriately balance the needs of security and privacy while safeguarding the essential human right of free expression.”
An open letter to Washington underlines the campaign, noting that “the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual.” The companies pledge to keep user data secure with encryption technology and by fighting unreasonable government requests, but change needs to start from within. “Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information.” Mark Zuckerberg stated. “The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right.” Indeed, the letter asks that Congress do just that: “take lead and make reforms” that would bring the proposed changes to fruition.
While the firms openly acknowledge the government’s need to take certain actions for the public good, it clearly states that the current laws governing surveillance are no good, and may even be hurting future adoption of new technologies. Microsoft’s Brad Smith puts it best, “People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”