Officials from tech giants Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AOL sent a letter to Senate leaders Thursday praising sponsors of a bill that would end bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans and create a privacy advocate to represent civil liberties within the secret court overseeing NSA activities, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
"Transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to be done," said the letter sent to four bill sponsors, including Sen. Patrick J. Leahy. D-Vt., who leads the Judiciary Committee. "Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs."
When reporting first began about the NSA's massive monitoring programs, companies focused on defending their reputations before they gradually began criticizing the government and challenging it in court. Some companies have to tighten their networks against penetration.
The tipping point came with the revelation of an NSA program collecting user information from Google and Yahoo! as it moves among data centers overseas, published by the Post Thursday.
"Clearly, this is something new and different," said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington think tank.
National security officials were critical of the article, especially any intimation that the NSA collected data under presidential authorities to avoid the greater oversight required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Post said.
"NSA conducts all of its activities in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies -- and assertions to the contrary do a grave disservice to the nation, its allies and partners, and the men and women who make up the National Security Agency," the agency said in a statement issued late Thursday.
In London Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said NSA surveillance went "too far" in some cases, and those excessive activities will end.
"There is no question that the president and I and others in government have, actually, learned of some things that have been happening in many ways on an automatic pilot, because the technology is there and the ability has been there [to eavesdrop]," Kerry told a conference organized by the international Open Government Partnership, which seeks government commitments to transparency and accountability.
"I acknowledge, as has the president, some of these actions have reached too far, and we are going to make sure that that does not happen in the future," Kerry said by video link.
President Barack Obama has promised a review of U.S. intelligence gathering but has not said it went too far.
Kerry's remarks came as the U.S. State Department said the secretary would travel to Europe and the Middle East next week, in part to repair damage caused by reports of U.S. eavesdropping on its allies.
Kerry defended the motives of U.S. intelligence gathering, insisting "innocent people are not being abused in this process" and saying U.S. and other nations' surveillance has saved lives.
But the surveillance, "in some cases," went "too far, inappropriately," Kerry repeated, "and the president, our president, is determined to try to clarify and make clear for people that he's now doing a thorough review in order that nobody will have a sense of abuse."
Kerry criticized news coverage about the surveillance, which he said included "an enormous amount of exaggeration and misreporting."