November 11, 2013
Tech companies call for more restraints on NSA surveillance
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.
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.”
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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