Microsoft, Google lead coalition seeking user surveillance limits

Dec. 9, 2013 at 12:27 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Eight U.S. tech giants, stung by revelations of the government spying on their customer data, called for limits on government surveillance of users.

The companies, led by Google and Microsoft, Monday offered a plan to regulate online surveillance and urged the United States take the lead in a global effort to restrict it, the New York Times reported.

Accompanying their plan was an open letter -- presented as full-page ads in national newspapers -- and a website detailing their concerns.

The push by the tech companies opens another front in their battle against surveillance by the government, which mounted with recent revelations about the National Security Agency's spying without the companies' knowledge. The companies have been making technical changes to try to tamp down the government monitoring and launched a campaign to convince users the companies are protecting user privacy.

"It's now in their business and economic interest to protect their users' privacy and to aggressively push for changes," Trevor Timm, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Times. "The NSA mass-surveillance programs exist for a simple reason: cooperation with the tech and telecom companies. If the tech companies no longer want to cooperate, they have a lot of leverage to force significant reform."

Joining Google and Microsoft were Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, AOL and LinkedIn. They said the spying revelations, which began in the summer when NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents about the massive monitoring efforts, showed that "the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual."

The Obama administration has begun a review of NSA procedures in reaction to public outrage and results could be presented to the White House as soon as this week.

The principles outlined by the companies don't have much information about their own practices that analysts told the Times contribute to the government's desire to tap into the companies' data.

"The companies are placing their users at risk by collecting and retaining so much information," said Marc Rosenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research and advocacy organization. "As long as this much personal data is collected and kept by these companies, they are always going to be the target of government collection efforts."

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