Apple, Google, Facebook press Senate to pass Freedom Act, curbing NSA surveillance

A consumer electronics coalition warns that many of its companies have "lost business" or have faced backlash from governments fearing the National Security Agency.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
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A group of major names in Silicon Valley are pushing the US Senate to pass a bill they believe will curb the mass surveillance efforts by the National Security Agency (NSA).

The Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which includes Apple, Google, and Facebook, called on the Senate in an open letter to vote on the bipartisan Freedom Act bill before the end of the current congress.

The bill aims to prevent bulk metadata collection under various government agencies, and allows companies to disclose the full number of data requests that have been made over a set period — even if those requests are top secret or classified. 

But the bill lost widespread support from privacy and civil liberty groups earlier this year which claimed it had been watered down in an effort to garner bipartisan support — something the bill needed to pass the House.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a procedural motion last week setting a date for the bill's hearing, with a vote set for soon after. 

The coalition said in comments that its companies have continued to invest in strengthening the security of services and increasing transparency. "Now, the Senate has the opportunity to send a strong message of change to the world and encourage other countries to adopt similar protections," the statement read on the coalition's website.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), a trade group that represents some of the country's largest technology companies, urged new Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to vote "yes" on the bill in a published letter dated November 13. 

Gary Shapiro said a number of American technology companies have been "hurt" by reaction to the Edward Snowden revelations, which first appeared in newspapers early-June 2013.

"Many companies have lost business, or face laws designed to restrict data flows, due to foreign governments' fear that the US government can reach company-managed data at will," Shapiro wrote. "This distrust hurts US companies competing globally for business, and could result in the loss of thousands of jobs.

"In fact, several companies, including members of CEA, have already lost contracts with foreign governments worth millions of dollars," he remarked.

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