Eight Tech Giants Publish Open Letter Calling for NSA Transparency

December 09, 2013
By: Tracey E. Schelmetic

Another week passes, and another revelation that the U.S. government, through the NSA, has been spying on someone. The targets get more outrageous with each leak: American cell phone subscribers ad Web surfers, global cell phone subscribers, even world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It leaves us wondering: is there anyone left on earth the NSA is NOT spying on with impunity?

By some estimates, the leaked documents provided to the UK newspaper the Guardian by former NSA contractor employee and world’s-most-famous-fugitive Edward Snowden are a treasure trove of compromising information, and only a fraction of the information has come available yet. Surely, there are more outrages to follow.

The nation’s tech giants haven’t wasted any time in registering their disapproval. Eight U.S. technology companies -- Apple, Google, and Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter (News - Alert), LinkedIn, Yahoo and AOL – have published an open letter in the Monday editions of The New York Times, The Washington Post and other papers urging adoption of reforms to curb runaway government surveillance, putting transparent rules in places that are clearly defined by law and subject to oversight. The companies also published their letter on a Web site, www.reformgovernmentsurveillance.com.

"This summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide," the letter reads. "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 letter refers not only to the leaks by Snowden, but the more recent revelation that the NSA intercepting unencrypted Internet traffic from many of these same tech companies without their knowledge or permission. Most of the companies operate under a gag order not to speak of the information they are forced to knowingly hand over to the NSA.

According to Cnet, to date, the letter represents the greatest concerted effort by tech companies against mass government data collection of telephone, e-mail, and other Internet communications. The Web site includes testimonials from executives involved on the reform effort, including Google (News - Alert) CEO Larry Page, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

"People won't use technology they don't trust," wrote Brad Smith, Microsoft (News - Alert)'s general counsel, on the ReformGovernmentSurveillance site. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."




Edited by Ryan Sartor