US tech firms call for NSA reforms

Top technology firms have called for reforms to the US government’s internet surveillance programmes

Microsoft, Google, Facebook , Yahoo and AOL have called for reforms to the US government’s internet surveillance programmes in an open letter to the Senate judiciary committee.

Tensions with the US government increased this week after fresh revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the US National Security Agency hacked links to Google and Yahoo datacentres.

Most of the tech firms have been calling for greater transparency over US government data requests since Snowden’s initial revelation of the NSA’s internet surveillance programme.

The joint letter calls for more transparency and "substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms” for surveillance programmes.

The technology firms also gave their support to the USA Freedom Act, a bill sponsored by Democrat senator Patrick Leahy and Republican congressman James Sensenbrenner.

The bill is aimed at ending the mass collection of data from millions of US citizens and the introduction of a privacy advocate to monitor the court that oversees the NSA's US activities.

"Our companies have consistently made clear that we only respond to legal demands for customer and user information that are targeted and specific,” the letter said.

The technology firms reiterated calls to allow them to reveal the number and nature of data requests from the US government.

The letter said greater transparency 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 they receive.

According to the Guardian, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) estimates that revelations about US surveillance could cost US cloud providers $21.5bn to $35bn over three years.

The open letter urges critical reforms to “provide much needed transparency and help rebuild the trust of Internet users around the world.”

In the UK, Labour MP Tom Watson has called for telecoms firms to reveal how intelligence agencies were allowed to tap into data communication links, the BBC reports.

“I want to know if the telecoms companies have voluntarily entered into this agreement or if they have been obliged to under UK or USA law,” he said in a debate at Westminster Hall.

Watson called for assurances from security minister James Brokenshire that phone records were not handed to GCHQ and the NSA as a matter of routine.

Brokenshire said: “GCHQ neither obtains nor discloses any material accept so far as necessary in pursuit of its statutory functions, as defined in the Intelligence Services Act."

He said while intelligence gathering was important in maintaining an edge in tackling terrorism and stopping criminals to ensure national security, he agreed it did not mean that the activities of the intelligence agencies should go unchecked.

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