Tech titans urge surveillance reform

An industry consortium featuring some of the biggest names in technology including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Reddit is urging the Obama Administration to support a major overhaul of laws governing electronic surveillance.

Center for Democracy and Technology strategist Mark Stanley said in a statement that the 25-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act is badly outdated, and that the law, as written, contains major loopholes that allow government agencies to obtain large amounts of information without warrants.

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"The law flies directly in the face of our Fourth Amendment values; in fact, many companies have fought back and now demand warrants before turning over customers' communications," Stanley said, referring to conflicts over the NSA's now-infamous data collection efforts.

The CDT released a list of 55 organizations participating in a national day of action supporting ECPA reform. Along with the tech industry, think-tanks and non-profits were represented, with participants including the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Business Software Alliance, and FreedomWorks.

Stanley said in an email that reform efforts have bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, but progress has been stalled by government agencies like the SEC trying to insert carve-out provisions which would exempt them from any rule changes for themselves.

The prominent presence of Google, Facebook and Yahoo all companies whose systems were allegedly used in the NSA's surveillance efforts in the campaign could lend further credence to the theory that they were essentially unwilling participants in these activities, strong-armed into compliance by government agencies. Several have filed suit against the NSA, albeit in the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, accusing the government of harming their reputations.

Some smaller companies, however, were not so lucky the owner of encrypted email provider Lavabit, Ladar Levison, shut down his service rather than comply with a court decision requiring him to open his systems to government investigators seeking information on document leaker Edward Snowden.

A petition can be signed until Thursday by supporters of the CDT's efforts. If it receives 100,000 or more signatures by that time, the Obama administration must respond publicly to the petition. (It's about two-thirds of the way there 66,700 signatures as of the time of this writing on Tuesday morning.)

Email Jon Gold at and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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