November 11, 2013

Tech companies call for more restraints on NSA surveillance

by with 5 comments

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NSA surveillance revelations have raised questions on the reputation of high profile technology companies in recent days. Leading Tech companies like Yahoo, Google, Apple and Facebook have teamed up against the U.S government’s surveillance programs to restore their reputation and win the trust of their customers. After months of requesting the government to be more transparent about the surveillance requests for mass digital data collection, the technology companies are demanding substantial restraints on how the National Security Agency collects and uses vast amounts of data. The companies have been fighting for the transparency of surveillance requests since few months. Unfortunately, the U.S government has denied their requests, saying allowing the companies to release such detailed information “would be invaluable to our adversaries,” providing a clear picture of where the government’s surveillance efforts are directed and how its surveillance activities change over time.

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However, the government’s decision has not stopped the technology companies from fighting against surveillance programs for mass data collection. Six major companies Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL have sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee calling for more restraints on NSA surveillance programs.The letter endorses greater transparency in surveillance programs and urges U.S lawmakers to enact reforms that would “include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs.” The letter also applauded the bill by the lawmakers that would end the bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans and create a privacy advocate to represent civil liberties interests within the secretive court that oversees the NSA. The companies also noted in the letter “Transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to be done. 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.”  These new steps should make people who use social media or who want to incorporate social media buttons into their websites (an increasingly popular thing to do) breathe a little easier.

The recent news about the NSA tapping into the data center links of Google and Yahoo has alarmed the technology companies. In comparison to the PRISM program the recently revealed MUSCULAR program seems to be more intrusive, as the spy agencies perform their operation of mass data collection without the knowledge of the tech companies. Therefore the tech companies are demanding that the surveillance practices of the U.S government should be reformed to enhance privacy protections and provide “appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms.” Besides demanding for more restraints on the surveillance practices the companies are also implementing strong security controls in order to protect their user information. For example, Yahoo has recently announced to encrypt its email services. Google has confirmed that it is going to encrypt all keyword searches. We can see that the companies are taking security more seriously after the PRISM revelations. If the companies are transparent about their data sharing practices with the NSA, and implement proper security measures to protect user data then they are never going to lose the trust of their customers. Keeping the their customers’ interest in mind, the companies have stated in the letter: “Allowing companies to be transparent about the number and nature of requests will help the public better understand the facts about the government’s authority to compel technology companies to disclose user data and how technology companies respond to the targeted legal demands we receive. Transparency in this regard will also help to counter erroneous reports that we permit intelligence agencies ‘direct access’ to our companies’ servers or that we are participants in a bulk Internet records collection program.”

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NSA counteracts the arguments made by the tech companies regarding the invasion of user privacy, saying “it 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.”

As per the analysis of legal experts, “most of the surveillance bills getting wide circulation on Capitol Hill would not address NSA collection operations in other countries.” Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society said,”To reform this is going to require passing a law that regulates NSA’s operations overseas, and none of the bills do that now.”

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  1. I don’t even know where to start. I think the Government needs to have practices in place to guards and protect it’s people. It is a valuable resource. But instead of protecting the country from cyber warfare, they are instead engaged in spying and collecting as much data on every individual as possible, a feat Hoover would be jealous of.

    Now with all that being pushed aside, how many people here ACTUALLY believe these companies care about our privacy? I am sure they knew about most of these programs and were well aware that they were working with the government to implement them. It was only because the public found out that these tech companies have to save face and pretend they know nothing about it.

    And let’s say they really do care about this issue, these tech companies are STILL MINING OUR DATA to be evaluated and sold for profit. And the thing is… we are all willing by willingly posting information on facebook and other social media that puts all our information out there.

    Just remember, ANY search you put into google is recorded. Whether they link this info to you or not is another question, but still, in this 1984 like society we have to realize nothing online is actually private, in fact, it soon will all be public.

  2. The NSA is completely out of line with all the spying. I don’t feel safe knowing that people working for the US government have access to all my personal emails and other information; the potential for an employee to use sensitive information like this for personal benefit is all too real. I think this agency needs to be reigned in now, and I am glad that major companies are standing up to them!

  3. After losing the trust of their customers, this is the least these internet tycoons can do to try to regain our privacy. The very companies who constantly assured us they were looking out for our privacy were in bed with the government releasing information about their users. Most of us understand there are security measures that need to be taken by our government, but after 9/11, what we got was an emotional and knee-jerk reaction in an extreme direction. It needs to be addressed and corrected. A government with the capability to spy on its citizens is dangerous government. And if we can’t trust the very internet giants that absorb all our private data, what are we to do? Options are few and limited.

  4. It is good to see some of the tech companies pushing back against increasing government intrusiveness. The government could not spy on your regular mail or phone calls without any legal restraints. Our electronic mail and communications are at least as important as our more traditional communications. The companies that profit off our electronic lives should help us stand up to the government.

  5. The only reason the tech companies are lobbying for more regulations on the NSA is due to public outcry. When people start to turn away from the tech companies due to a perceived lack of privacy, it hurts their bottom line. Don’t praise the tech companies, praise the American people for standing up against Big Brother.

    I do believe the NSA is right to say that their actions are legal. I don’t believe the 4th amendment protects the information that one has voluntarily uploaded to the internet.

    The NSA’s spying on international leaders is also a huge problem. It undermine’s the sovereignty of the nations in which we are spying on. It does not make the US look very good in the international community.