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Top tech firms call for worldwide surveillance reform

Warwick Ashford

Top technology firms have joined forces to call for urgent reforms of all internet surveillance programmes such as Prism in the US, and Tempora in the UK.

Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, have formed an alliance called Reform Government Surveillance group.

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The group has written a letter to the US President and Congress which contends that current internet surveillance "undermines” freedom.

The letter says documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden “highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.

"The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual,” the letter says.

The firms are concerned that public loss of trust in technology will hurt their businesses, and are calling on governments to help restore that trust.

In related efforts to distance themselves from US and UK internet surveillance programmes, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have introduced advanced encryption methods to protect customer data.

Microsoft, Yahoo and Google have also published transparency reports on the overall number of government requests for data, as well as pushing for the right to publish more details on such requests.

The new alliance has also drawn up a list of five reform principles, according to the Guardian, which call on governments to limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes.

They say governments should not undertake bulk data collection of internet communications and that requests for companies to hand over individual data should be limited by new rules.

These rules should balance the “need for the data in limited circumstances, users’ reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the internet”.

Reacting to news of the technology alliance, Malcolm Rifkind, the chair of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the onus is on governments to ensure surveillance laws are proportionate.

"I think the issue we all want to address is of proportionality. The onus has to be on government to decide what the policy should be,” he said.

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: “There can be no doubt that the surveillance laws of Britain, the US or many other countries around the world are not fit for an internet age. Britain's own laws were written before many of these companies even existed.
 
“Governments should not need to be told by private businesses that it is wrong to collect data on every citizen, through secret processes subject to little or no oversight. Sadly that is the position we find ourselves in.

“This statement of principles, by some of the world’s biggest companies, is a watershed moment and one that cannot go ignored in any country that regards itself as a democracy.
 
“These businesses represent billions of dollars of global revenue, highlighting the significant risk to the digital economy of those nations who do not take concerns about web surveillance seriously,” said Pickles.


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