Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook call for NSA muzzle

Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook call for NSA muzzle

Summary: The Reform Government Surveillance group, an alliance between eight major technology firms, aims to persuade the U.S. government to stop undermining the privacy rights of the general public.

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Household names including Apple and Google have formally called for changes to U.S. surveillance practices and policy, arguing that current operations undermine the freedom of people.

Eight companies, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo and LinkedIn have formed an alliance called the Reform Government Surveillance group. Although usually fierce competitors, the group have come together in agreement over the U.S. government's spying programs -- brought to light by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden -- and have formally requested "wide-scale changes" to the regime.

See also: Tech giants push surveillance reform: What wasn't said

Snowden's revelations have included alleged wiretapping, the storage of phone call records illegally, fibre-optic cable infiltration used to monitor communication on an international scale, and the use of malware to monitor computer networks by the U.S. agency.

According to the latest document leak, the NSA is gathering close to 5 billion records a day on cellular devices worldwide. The Washington Post says large amounts of domestic data is "incidentally" recorded, which allows the agency to track millions of people worldwide based on how and where mobile devices are used.

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NSA mass surveillance leaks: Timeline of events to date

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On the alliance's website, an open letter to President Obama and Congress signed by the firms acknowledges that governments have "a duty to protect their citizens," but argues that Snowden's information leaks over the practices of the NSA and U.S. government in wholesale spying have highlighted "the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the revelations show a "real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information." Brad Smith, Executive Vice President of Legal & Corporate Affairs at Microsoft said that "surveillance should address specific, suspicious targets under defined legal process rather than bulk collection of Internet communications."

Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo, said "recent revelations about government surveillance activities have shaken the trust of our users, and it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world." Google CEO and chairman Larry Page commented that user data security was "critical" for firms, but this has been "undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world."

"The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual -- rights that are enshrined in our Constitution," the letter states. "This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for a change."

The U.S. President agrees to an extent. During a recent appearance on MSNBC's Hardball, Obama said that he plans to "propose some self-restraint on the NSA," and push for "some reforms that that can give people more confidence." At the interview, Obama said:

"All of us spend more and more of our lives in cyberspace. We've got to be in there in some way to protect the American people, even as we're making sure the government doesn't abuse it. The Snowden exposures have identified some areas of legitimate concern, but some of it has also been highly sensationalized.

The people at the NSA generally are looking out for the safety of the American people. They are not interested in reading your emails or text messages, and that's not something that's done."

The company alliance states that they are all taking steps to keep user data secure, including the deployment of encryption technology to scupper "unauthorized surveillance on our networks," and plan to push back government requests to ensure they are both legal and reasonable.

It is this statement that is double-edged. Public outrage over Snowden's revelations have wounded consumer trust in technology companies whose names become involved, and if the target market has doubts, then this can end up damaging both a firm's reputation and profit lines. While improving encryption and security is all to the good, it is worth keeping in mind that data collection is within the realms of both government surveillance and corporations -- in short, both sides are battling over which has control and dominance over the data we generate while using communications-based services.

By formally protesting against governmental spying and data collection, the firms have the opportunity to boost their own reputations and potentially rebuild the trust of consumers -- as well as join the fight to retain authority over customer data which is collected for the company's benefit. Just as Microsoft's Smith wrote in a blog post -- "people won't use technology they don't trust."

Topics: Government US, Legal, Privacy

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  • Alternatives for people worried about online privacy

    If people are worried about online privacy they can use services like http://motherpipe.co.uk (search) and Adblocker(to prevent third party tracking) and HTTPS Everywhere (encrypted surfing). More stuff at https://prism-break.org/.
    Fredrik Cornell
    • Policies, not technology

      In security, you need the policies to drive the technology. HTTPS is flawed, for example, if someone controls your PC and inserts a trusted CA root certificate or if the NSA controls *any* of the MANY trusted CAs (and intermediaries) already built in to browsers. Adblocker might work on cookies and javascript but will fail when devices provide their location as they do using cell towers, WiFi and GPS. When you drive on the road, there are continual reminders of the speed limits so you can ensure you don't break the law. We need more signs on the Internet so people can make their own decisions on whether they want to speed or not even travel. The government needs to protect its people from both itself and from corporations that will use the information to their advantage.
      zd@...
      • Sadly, Government is trying to make it worse & ZDNet failed to inform again

        Not sure how ZDNet manages to be considered relevant... You report on companies calling for an NSA muzzle and fail to include the most important action items for your readers to aid the cause. Ya missed the entire dart board and wall on that one ZDNet.

        Senator Dianne Feinstein hatched an abortion of an idea to give the NSA more power and calls it "The FISA Improvements Act". FISA would make permanent a loophole permitting the NSA to search for Americans’ identifying information without a warrant. And the way it is written, it could allow the FBI, DEA, and any other law enforcement agencies to do the same thing.

        Do a Google search on "feinstein nsa fisa" and read up on it...

        Here is one article...
        https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/11/15-7


        There are several petitions to stop Feinstein's moronic idea... (And I would recommend everyone sign them and pass it onto friends.)

        Here is one from Freepress. Google will find more.

        http://act.freepress.net/sign/Internet_FISA_Feinstein/


        Lead, follow, or get out of the way, tomorrow is what you make it.
        i8thecat4
    • Sadly...

      I can assure you, none of those tactics will prevent NSA snooping. The tech the NSA are using will crack any protection currently available. Only quantum entanglement based secure communications methods have the potential to elevate security beyond the cracking capabilities they currently possess.

      Unfortunately, the whole story still isn't out. The worst part of the NSA activity is the fact that the agency isn't actually reporting to, or controlled by, our "official" government. Neither is the CIA. I guarantee that any action Congress or the President takes will be for show and will simply push the activity further from public scrutiny.

      Still, it's nice to see the general public finally finding out at least some of what their government has been doing for many years. Thank you Mr. Snowden. You are a true patriot.
      BillDem
      • POTUS agrees

        Apparently, BHO agrees with you-- see his comments about "areas of legitimate concern" in the article above. Pretty amazing-- a high school dropout has got the leader of the free world giving him credit... [rolls eyes].

        Eventually they will nail ES (if someone else doesn't "disappear" him first). I wonder if his lawyers will be able to use that interview while defending him in the secret court proceedings.
        ClearCreek
      • Wrong on encryption bill

        Sorry Bill, but you're wrong about NSA cracking. Current encryption technologies are more than adequate to resist any cracking if properly implemented. Any encryption using the basic RSA set properly implemented will withstand all effort to break in a time line sufficient to return unencrypted, usable data before spoilage occurs. Spoilage, in that it will take so long to find the correct key that the information is no longer useful because of aging.

        True enough, most people and even industry don't implement in a fashion that guarantees impregnability but that is more an issue with technical ability, the encryption will hold and proper implementation will come with front end simplicity.

        PFS, TNO and other correctly done protocols will indeed render even the NSA powerless to break, and this movement is in the works but will need to have the assistance of the big companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and they will resist because indexing and tailoring advertising accordingly is their lifeblood. For all of that though, the NSA and all others will eventually find their rich source of information drying up.

        It is far,far easier to encrypt than crack, the analogy is that it's easy to put cream in coffee but almost impossibly hard to remove it. Encryption is like that, breaking strong encryption is like removing the cream from the coffee after their mixed, nearly impossible, incredibly expensive and the end product is mostly useless because it takes so long.

        Don't confuse true, properly applied encryption with what the NSA is doing, their no better at it than any other hacker facing the same, almost impossible task, the Vast amount of computing horsepower they can apply is almost no help, memory hard decryption attacks spare no hardware platform regardless of scale.
        afhavemann@...
  • Online privacy

    is a Right, not a technology. What is going on here is necessary for a huge law suit. To get a case in front of the Supreme Court, you need to have been injured. This is the necessary documentation. To get to the court's notice, you also have to have zillions of bucks to spread around to parties that the Justices go to in Washington. Check. Good year to be a lobbyist in Washington, the avalanche of money that is coming will be startling!
    Tony Burzio
  • 4 Davids versus Goliath on steroids

    Good luck with that.
    Astringent
  • While we are at it, muzzle the IRS

    The IRS is the flip side of this issue. All you need is for the NSA to start working with the IRS and there goes the end of the first amendment.
    dferguson75@...
    • A bill was just introduced to..

      ... repeal the 16th Amendment because it is, and always has been, unconstitutional. It will likely never pass, but it just shows how fed up many people are becoming.
      BillDem
      • The 16th Amendment is unconstitutional?

        There are some arguments that it wasn't properly ratified, in which case, the allegedly non-ratifying state(s) and anyone else opposed have had plenty of time to make their court cases, but I know of nothing in the US Constitution that prohibits constitutional amendments related to federal taxing authority.
        John L. Ries
      • An amendment cannot be unconstitutional . . .

        An amendment is part of the constitution, so it cannot be unconstitutional.

        It can be interpreted or enforced in an unconstitutional way. Without income tax, we would go back to a tariff system or a national sales tax. There will always be tax.
        gwartnet
        • Sure it can be

          But as far as I can tell, the only restriction on how the US Constitution can be amended is that no state without its consent can be deprived of equal representation in the Senate. I'll take that as implying in addition that the Senate cannot be abolished or its powers reduced without the consent of all states.

          And these sorts of restrictions occur in other national constitutions as well. The French Constitution, for example, forbids any amendment that would restore the monarchy or otherwise do away with republican government.
          John L. Ries
      • re: A bill was just introduced to..

        > repeal the 16th Amendment because it is, and always has been, unconstitutional.

        How can the constitution be unconstitutional??
        none none
        • If a later amendment is proven to contradict an earlier amendment,

          The latter amendment is unconstitutional.
          anothercanuck
          • wrong

            When it comes to the constitution (and most laws and treaties), later in time is given priority. For example, prohibition and the repeal thereof. Amendments to the constitution are treated with the same importance as any other part of the constitution. You can debate what amendments mean and the scope created, especially as they compare to other parts of the constitution, but in no case ever is a validly passed amendment unconstitutional.

            Now, state constitutions can be unconstituional, but that's a different matter entirely.
            gwartnet
          • You're correct on later amendments taking prededence over earlier ones

            The 21st Amendment being the primary example.
            John L. Ries
  • Sadly, nothing will happen

    Unless congress cuts NSA's budget; which they don't seem willing or able to do, nothing will stop them...Nothing peaceful anyway.
    Ricardus
    • The NSA budget.

      The NSA only receives a small portion of their actual budget (not the published budget) from the government. Cutting their funding will have minimal impact on their activities. Both the CIA and NSA are mostly funded by illegal drug trafficking money, among other things.
      BillDem
      • So who else is fundng it?

        There may not be formal items in appropriations bills, but I have no reason to believe that 100% of the NSA's funding isn't coming from US taxpayers. The Department of Defense is and always has been the NSA's parent agency and the "black" parts of its budget are scrutinized by Congressional committees.
        John L. Ries