Most Big Internet Companies Speak Out For Major Surveillance Reform

from the about-time dept

Since the Snowden leaks began we've highlighted that the US internet companies should be furious about the NSA's actions, because it was almost certainly going to harm their ability to get any business outside of the US. Some of the companies seemed to be lying low, and we argued they should be speaking out and fighting back. While many of them did decide to sue for greater transparency, we argued that transparency was just one issue, and not even the most important one. About a month ago, with the revelations of the NSA infiltrating data centers, it appeared to finally dawn on the major internet companies that this was a serious issue.

Basically all of the largest internet companies -- with the exception of Amazon (and Apple, if you consider them an internet company) have now launched a website demanding major reforms for government surveillance. Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn and AOL have all joined in this effort, with a bunch of specific requests:
  1. Limiting Governments' Authority to Collect Users' Information
  2. Increase Oversight and Accountability (such as by making FISA an adversarial process)
  3. Transparency About Government Demands
  4. Respecting the Free Flow of Information
  5. Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments
With the website, they've also sent a specific open letter to the government highlighting why this is important, focusing on the rights of individuals and the ability to keep their information private.
We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. 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. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.

For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.

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.
Some will, undoubtedly, argue that this is all just noise for the sake of public perception, but compare what these companies are doing to the major telco companies, which not only have refused to comment on all of this, but have actively fought efforts by their own shareholders to make them just slightly more transparent (up to the level many internet companies were even before the Snowden leaks).

The question, now, is how much effort these companies will really put into getting Congress to change the laws. There are a number of different bills in Congress. Having the tech companies assist the efforts for real reform would certainly be helpful.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Eric, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 12:04pm

    It always surprises me when AOL still exists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    out_of_the_blue, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 12:06pm

    PR PR PR.

    That's really the only comment needed. Those mega-corporations get BILLIONS by spying: they're NOT going to stop their own "commercial" surveillance. But I did clip this prior, knowing you'd run with it:

    Just notice how these corporations are DOING what they claim NSA / gov't should not be:
    In a set of principles expanding on the letter's themes and published online leaders of the world's eight largest Internet companies Monday urged President Obama to end online mass surveillance and bulk data-gathering, like that revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.", the companies demand for the first time an end to the huge-scale vacuuming-up of the communications of millions of people not even suspected of any wrongdoing.

    "Governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications," the principles state.

    Although the companies have previously asked for the right to be more transparent with their customers about how they cooperate with law enforcement and intelligence agencies, Monday's letter is the first time they have called so clearly for an end to bulk collection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 12:10pm


    Do they still use HTCPCP?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    FM Hilton, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 12:16pm

    Sure, they say they're bothered

    But at the end of the day, guess what? These companies get paid for the information/access to the information that the NSA receives from them. Really. Surely you don't think they give this stuff away, do you?

    That's the truth, and that's why nothing will ever change.

    They can bitch, whine, moan, piss and groan all they want in public, but in private they'll be waiting for the next check from the government for all that access.

    Plus, an odd note: why aren't the telcos in on this? Verizon and others would be amongst the prime players in this entire insanity, but nothing from them.

    Guess they know where their bread is buttered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 12:38pm

    What is the Point?

    They are already breaking constitutional law.

    Is there a purpose to creating more law to do what another law already does? If they will break the current law then they will just break the new one.

    The point here is to start voting them out, if you can't do that then don't vote at all or shut up the next time YOU are disenfranchised by the Law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 12:58pm

    Re: PR PR PR.

    you mean the bulk collection of data you've voluntarily submitted to them?

    if you don't like their business model of collecting your info in exchange for using their free services, stop being a freetard and vote with your wallet

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 1:08pm

    ISP's Notably Absent

    Notice how most of the largest ISP's are notably absent? Could it have anything to do with crony capitalism?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 1:27pm

    Re: ISP's Notably Absent

    This was exactly my observation. You would think after AT&T got denied their chance to join in the European bid on telecommunications that they would be riding hard on this part about spying having damaged their business model. Instead they are telling their stockholders it's none of their business. AT&T doesn't want to give up all that sweet lagniappe it's pulling in by co-operating with the government over these data collecting and relinquishing programs.

    The stockholders are right though. Had I another choice AT&T would not be my ISP. As it is I limit their ability to collect data as much as possible. These stockholders are looking to the future. In that future, the damage by all this spying will be reflected on who gets what contracts where. What they are pulling in won't equal what they could be pulling in with a larger global presence. A presence I suspect will be dampened by their present actions in cahoots with the government.

    One thing is sure, the NSAs days of rabid spying and unlimited expansion is going to be pinched back. Obama claims he's going to do it but I believe him about like I believe that lake out there is magically going to turn to steam today and be an ice skating rink tonight. Since he's been a wholesale supporter of this spying I have to assume he's said that to limit the reigning in as much as possible, not because he actually wants change. He's looking for the minimal necessary to satisfy the public resentment while continuing business as usual.

    It's high time to fire Clapper and haul his butt to court over lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee with his least untruthful answer. It's time to have a general booting of butts in that agency, removing all the tainted people that have now been exposed to this travesty of respecting the public's privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 2:47pm

    FYI: Apple IS a part of this, too

    Not sure why the Apple logo isn't near the top of the page, but it's shown at the bottom, and numerous other sites have reported that Apple is indeed a part of this: recking-ball-letter/

    And this article, pointing out the need for *corporate* surveillance reform as well, was unexpectedly good, and seems like something most folks here would agree with:!/entry/tech-giants-surveillance-reform-rally-is-disingenuous-a nd-selfserving,52a618a0025312186c9b8070

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Dec 9th, 2013 @ 3:21pm

    Re: FYI: Apple IS a part of this, too

    That looks like a design oversight. They're listed as a signatory on the letter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 9th, 2013 @ 4:07pm

    Re: Re: ISP's Notably Absent

    AT&T comes from phone company roots, and as a phone company, it's pretty much mandatory to be effectively a department of the government or it gets punished in terms of regulations and contracts. They have a very, very long history -- going all the way back to the telegraph -- of facilitating government surveillance on their communications channels.

    It's no surprise that they behave this way. It's part of their DNA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 4:37pm

    Re: What is the Point?

    Which would work if the system weren't corrupted to the point of making it impossible.

    Really, the only votes worth casting when the system's that broken are with our feet or force of arms.

    Representative democracy, isn't.
    Though it tends to be one of the better systems when properly implimented. Having the representatives in lynching range of their constituents helps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 4:39pm

    Re: Re: What is the Point?

    Damnit, *your feet, not our feet (tablet keeps eating characters and forgetting I'm signed in lately...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 6:41pm

    More likely these companies object to being cut out of the opportunity to get contracts to do the exact same thing. Shame not to be able to get paid twice for the same data.

    I was a little disappointed that there's no article about the revelation that Google are funding scumbags like Grover Norquist and other Nazis masquerading as Republicans. I love seeing Google aligned with sleaze weasels like the Koch brothers. Nothing better to mark the "Don't be evil" guys as world class hypocrites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2013 @ 10:13pm

    As long as there is a secret interpretation of the patriot act, how can we trust anything that results from this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Prisoner 201, Dec 10th, 2013 @ 12:44am

    Just wait for the TPP and use "investor dispute resolution settlements" to sue the NSA for lost profits due to surveillance, and force US to change its surveillance laws.

    I joke, the US will ever accept any investor dispute resolution settlements against the US. That's not what these trade agreements are for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Pragmatic, Dec 10th, 2013 @ 4:14am

    Re: Sure, they say they're bothered private-communications/

    They've got no incentive to change this lucrative situation. If they weren't being paid to sell us out, they'd be on the anti-spying bandwagon in a flash.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Pragmatic, Dec 10th, 2013 @ 4:17am

    Re: Re: What is the Point?

    One man can't make much of a difference. You've got to get as many people on board as possible so you've got a block vote for the third party/independent. That means agreeing on who the third party/independent candidate should be.

    Now would be a good time to start researching and promoting possible candidates on your social media accounts so when the election season begins, you're ready. Back the most popular of the third party candidate, and you've got a reasonable chance of getting that person in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Pragmatic, Dec 10th, 2013 @ 4:19am


    Is it me or is it reasonable to fear that IDRS can be used to sue governments for NOT permitting surveillance? Most of it is being done by private contractors for the government, after all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Dec 10th, 2013 @ 6:47am

    Re: PR PR PR.

    Stop impersonating me you fraud!

    02:46:36 [123-abc-1] (This line makes everyone laugh)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2013 @ 6:48am

    Re: Sure, they say they're bothered

    It depends how many customers they loose as a result of the spying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2013 @ 10:22am

    They had to do something now that everyone knows they're 100% complicit with the feds (which means they're an extension of the feds).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 2:08pm

    We don't need surveillance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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