Despite being at each other’s throats the majority of the time, the world’s leading internet companies do see eye-to-eye on some issues, and it seems that none are particularly keen on the US government’s massive web surveillance operations.
Which is why eight companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo, have banded together to form the Reform Government Surveillance group, in order to force the US government to rein in the NSA and the PRISM spy program that was first revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The alliance has been formed in the shared belief that “it is time for the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information.”
So what will this new organization do exactly? Well, to start with, it’s announced its support for sweeping reforms that have been proposed by politicians in Washington, reports The Guardian. The organization also dictates five principles any changes should adhere to, including:
1. Limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information
2. Oversight and accountability
3. Transparency about government demands
4. Respecting the freer flow of information
5. Avoiding conflict about governments
In an open letter, the Reform Government Surveillance group is asking the US government to “take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”
The letter comes as disclosures from Snowden continue to filter through to the press. Some of these recent disclosures highlight how the NSA has been using various techniques to hack into data centers operated by Google and Yahoo. In response to this, companies have attempted to beef up their own systems to prevent such attacks, and the Reform Government Surveillance group can be seen as an extension of these efforts.
Doing so is in these companies’ interests, as each of them needs their user’s trust in order to do business. Allegations that companies like Microsoft and Google have been actively facilitating the NSA’s surveillance efforts were particularly damaging, and a so a high-profile effort like this should go some way towards regaining user’s confidence.
“People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it,” wrote Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel and Executive Vice President for Legal and Corporate Affairs.
Also critical was Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, who said that the US government has a responsibility to rein in surveillance:
“Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information. The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right,” wrote Zuckerberg.