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Tech giants seek snooping limits

Dec. 9: Eight prominent technology companies, bruised by revelations of government spying on their customers’ data and scrambling to repair the damage to their reputations, are mounting a public campaign to urge President Obama and Congress to set new limits on government surveillance.

Today the companies, led by Google and Microsoft, presented a plan to regulate online spying and urged the US to lead a worldwide effort to restrict it. They accompanied it with an open letter, in the form of full-page ads in national newspapers, including The New York Times, and a website detailing their concerns.

It is the broadest and strongest effort by the companies, often archrivals, to speak with one voice to pressure the government. The tech industry, whose billionaire founders and executives are highly sought as political donors, forms a powerful interest group that is increasingly flexing its muscle in Washington.

“It’s now in their business and economic interest to protect their users’ privacy and to aggressively push for changes,” said Trevor Timm, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The NSA mass-surveillance programmes exist for a simple reason: cooperation with the tech and telecom companies. If the tech companies no longer want to cooperate, they have a lot of leverage to force significant reform.”

The political push by the technology companies opens a third front in their battle against government surveillance, which has escalated with recent revelations about government spying without the companies’ knowledge.

The companies have also been making technical changes to try to thwart spying and have been waging a public-relations campaign to convince users that they are protecting their privacy.

“People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said in a statement. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”

Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL and LinkedIn joined Google and Microsoft in saying that they believed in governments’ right to protect their citizens.

But, they said, the spying revelations that began last summer with leaks of NSA materials by Edward J. Snowden showed that “the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual”.

The Obama administration has already begun a review of NSA procedures in reaction to public outrage. The results of that review could be presented to the White House as soon as this week.

 
 
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