US tech companies ask governments to reform surveillance practices

The eight tech companies want the U.S. to lead the reforms

Eight top tech companies in the U.S. have asked governments around the world to reform surveillance laws and practices, and asked the U.S. to take the lead.

AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft said Monday that they understand that governments need to take action to protect their citizens' safety and security, but "strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed."

Internet companies have been at the focus of disclosures through newspapers from June by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, which suggested that the agency had real-time access to content on the servers of some Internet companies and was also tapping into the communications links between the data centers of Yahoo and Google.

The companies deny complicity in the NSA's dragnet surveillance, and some have asked permission from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to disclose aggregate information on security requests for user data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The latest move appears to be one of a number by the Internet companies to highlight that they are on the side of the user, and to bring pressure on governments, particularly of the U.S. Facebook, AOL, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo wrote in October to the chairman and members of a U.S. Committee on the Judiciary, demanding that the surveillance practices of the U.S. should be reformed to enhance privacy protections and provide "appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms."

In an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and members of Congress on a newly launched website called Reform Government Surveillance, the companies said that "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," the companies added.

Microsoft promised business and government customers worldwide last week that it is committed to informing them of legal orders related to their data, and will fight in court any 'gag order' that prevents it from sharing such information with customers. The company said it plans to encrypt customers' information moving between its data centers by the end of 2014. Google and Yahoo have also announced plans to strengthen the encryption of their services.

"There needs to be a balance between safety and the personal freedoms of people, especially law-abiding citizens and institutions," wrote Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs in a blog post about the industry call for surveillance reform.

"The ultimate guarantee of these freedoms rests with the courts -- as well as the court of public opinion," Smith said. "Hence surveillance must be subject to judicial review in accord with clear legal rules."

The companies have outlined through the website five reform principles including limiting government surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and greater oversight and accountability over intelligence agencies.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags regulationLinkedIngovernmentlegislationinternetprivacyFacebookAOLAppleYahooGoogleMicrosoftsecuritytwitter

More about AOLAppleFacebookGoogleIDGMicrosoftNational Security AgencyNSAYahoo

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by John Ribeiro

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts