Internet giants Google, Microsoft and Apple were among a group of companies that sent an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, calling for the scale-back of expansive surveillance programmes of the National Security Agency, which they suggested was eroding public trust.
Eight household names of the tech world, also including Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Yahoo and LinkedIn, announced that they had formed an alliance called the Reform Government Surveillance group, which alluded to the revelations made by Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor-turned whistleblower and called for surveillance reform.
On the alliance’s website, reformgovernmentsurveillance.com, the companies said, “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual… that are enshrined in our Constitution.”
The coming-together of these eight traditionally fierce rivals marks an unprecedented challenge to the NSA’s far-reaching surveillance of Internet communications, which has faced rigorous interrogation following Mr. Snowden’s exposés in the several newspapers including The Hindu, since June 2013.
This week the eight companies addressed the President and members of the U.S. Congress and said that they were committed to keeping their users’ data secure through the latest encryption technology, including “to prevent unauthorised surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.”
They also called upon the U.S. intelligence community to ensure that government surveillance efforts “are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”
Following this summer’s revelations on the scale of mass global surveillance, Congressional oversight committees grilled NSA chief Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on whether any rules stemming from the governing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were flouted by the Agency.
Among the principles that the surveillance reform alliance outlined as desirable were limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information, oversight and accountability, transparency about government demands, respecting the free flow of information, and avoiding conflicts among governments.
One principle that the alliance pressed for in the context of the free flow of information is likely to be relevant to India’s concerns about the NSA’s surveillance – the alliance’s argument that “Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.”
Following The Hindu’s publication of top-secret NSA documents provided by Mr. Snowden on the extent of the NSA’s spying on targets within India, the Indian government was said to be discussing the prospect of having email service providers located within its territory and under its control.
Last week the Indian government also said to have re-upped its discussions with the U.S. on the spying programmes after revelations that its diplomatic posts in Washington and New York were among the surveillance targets of the NSA.
Source: The Hindu