Internet titans call for an end to mass snooping

December 10th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

The world’s leading technology companies have united to demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws, urging an international ban on bulk collection of data to help preserve the public’s “trust in the internet”.

In their most concerted response yet to disclosures by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL will publish an open letter to Barack Obama and Congress on Monday, throwing their weight behind radical reforms already proposed by Washington politicians.

“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” urges the letter signed by the eight US-based internet giants. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for change.”

An excellent move.

“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens,” they say in the letter. “But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.”

A separate list of five “reform principles” signed by the normally fiercely competitive group echoes measures to rein in the NSA contained in bipartisan legislation proposed by the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary committee, Patrick Leahy, and the Republican author of the Patriot Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner.

Crucially, Silicon Valley and these key reformers in Congress now agree the NSA should no longer be allowed to indiscriminately gather vast quantities of data from individuals it does not have cause to suspect of terrorism in order to detect patterns or in case it is needed in future.

“Governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of internet communications,” says the companies’ new list of principles.

That sounds like an excellent principle to me.

The companies also repeat a previous demand that they should be allowed to disclose how often surveillance requests are made but this is the first time they have come together with such wide-ranging criticism of the underlying policy.

The industry’s lobbying power has been growing in Washington and could prove a tipping point in the congressional reform process, which has been delayed by the autumn budget deadlock but is likely to return as a central issue in the new year.

They do have significant clout.

If you want some idea of what the US Government could do with the “metadata” it collects, have a look at this ACLU presentation which gives a great example.

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13 Responses to “Internet titans call for an end to mass snooping”

  1. kowtow (6,701 comments) says:

    By the same token will the internet titans stop mass gathering of our data every time we use their sites?

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  2. WineOh (428 comments) says:

    Astonishing to find such unity among fierce competitors on this issue.

    I think its mostly a PR exercise from them though, as users are increasingly suspicious about how widely their personal information is shared.

    My prediction: the US Govt will form some kind of panel or make a minor adjustment to privacy, the “industry” will claim victory… and back to business as usual.

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  3. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,668 comments) says:

    When you see something promoted by the Guardian and the ACLU then you can be sure it will be in the interests of those who want to weaken the US.

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  4. flipper (3,269 comments) says:

    Any thought that any Government with the technological means will limit surveillance is simply absurd. More colourful descriptions may be apt.

    After December 7, 1941 the world changed – forever. September 9 was a reminder that falsely perceived security = vulnerability.

    There will be no change to curre4t methods and practices. Anyone who thinks that this issue is one for only democratic nations is balmy. So are the proposed “feel good” solutions.

    Wake up!

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  5. rouppe (852 comments) says:

    To be fair, it is probably the mass collection which allows the NSA to detect patterns that allow them to focus on individuals.

    While I do feel the balance has tipped too far, I’m not sure where the optimum balance is…

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  6. anonymouse (651 comments) says:

    Hmm let me get this correct, Google are complaining that they US government shouldn’t be allowed to gather vast quantities of data from Individuals,

    But, it is OK for Google to read any email you send to one of the 400 million gmail users to select advertising that financially benefits Google

    Its Ok to spy for Money, but not national security,

    hmm I wonder how far Google are gonna get with that line…..

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  7. alloytoo (337 comments) says:

    I’m less concerned about the NSA trying to profile me than Google, MS & FB trying to profile me. #trendingsucks

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  8. Yoza (1,348 comments) says:

    Google does not assassinate people, the US government assassinates people on a regular basis.

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  9. wikiriwhis business (3,286 comments) says:

    Half the problem is the ignorance of so many who think govt spying is a conspiracy theory.

    This ignorance flies in the face of TSA surveillance, Wikileaks revelations, Security cameras on Streets (London has the largest big broher surveillance in the world) Evidence that digital TV has data storing technology surveilling homes for govt data bases. On and on it goes.

    The top English police chief complained about the amount of surveillance in England. Just over the top.

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  10. OneTrack (1,963 comments) says:

    Yoza – “, the US government assassinates people on a regular basis”

    That damn Obama. He should be impeached.

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  11. Nigel Kearney (747 comments) says:

    Ordinary criminals tend to have an ongoing record of criminal activity, while terrorists often strike just once. So a need to rely on existing suspicion makes it quite hard to stop them. Electronically scanning a huge email database to look for patterns seems like it could be quite an important way to detect terrorism, though probably less so now they are known to be doing it.

    It would be good it there was a way that authorities could just have the message text without any identifying information. Then if they find something they would need a warrant to obtain the email address, IP details etc. But I’m not sure how practical that is.

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  12. wikiriwhis business (3,286 comments) says:

    NSA spying on online games

    American and British intelligence operations have been spying on gamers across the world, media outlets reported, saying that the world’s most powerful espionage agencies sent undercover agents into virtual universes to monitor activity in online fantasy games such as World of Warcraft.

    Stories carried Monday by The New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica said US and UK spies have spent years trawling online games for terrorists or informants. The stories, based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, offer an unusual take on America’s world-spanning surveillance campaign, suggesting that even the fantasy worlds popular with children, teens, and escapists of all ages aren’t beyond the attention of the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/games/30006327/nsa-spying-on-online-games

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  13. Harriet (4,010 comments) says:

    “….By the same token will the internet titans stop mass gathering of our data every time we use their sites?..”

    No of course not Kowtow – then they wouldn’t have anything to sell to the government!

    These titans are just getting rid of the competition.

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