Tech companies call on US to end bulk collection of metadata

The provision in the Patriot Act that allows for the bulk collection of metadata expires in June.

A slew of tech companies have joined privacy groups in calling for the U.S. government to reform its surveillance practices.

An open letter from the tech industry and privacy organizations urges the government to not renew the provision in the Patriot Act that allows for the bulk collection of metadata. That provision, called Section 215, expires in June.

"There must be a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices," reads the letter, which was signed by the industry group Reform Government Surveillance, whose members include including Apple, Facebook, Google, Evernote, Twitter and Microsoft. Any data collection efforts need to protect user rights and privacy, the letter said.

The issue stems from the bulk collection of metadata, like the length and time of phone calls, by U.S. intelligence groups including the National Security Agency. In 2013 former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released documents that showed the NSA was gathering this information from millions of phone calls.

"Nearly two years after government surveillance revelations came to light, the U.S. Government still has unfinished business to reduce the technology trust deficit it has created," said Fred Humphries, Microsoft's vice president of U.S. government affairs, in a blog post.

Attempts by Congress to reform the country's surveillance programs have so far failed. In November, the Senate voted against a bill that would have reined in the NSA's ability to collect telephone records in bulk.

On Monday, a spokesman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council told Reuters that the administration will stop the bulk data collection if Congress fails to reauthorize it. The administration, however, wants Congress to enact legislation allowing the collection to continue, saying that Section 215 is "a critical national security tool" that has uses besides bulk data collection.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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