Google joins Microsoft, Apple, others in surveillance reform plea

Google has joined other tech heavyweights in calling on Congress to reform current US surveillance policies.


Google has joined forces with companies including Microsoft and Apple to tackle the government on the issue of surveillance reform.

On Wednesday, Google revealed in a blog post that the tech giant has joined the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, civil rights groups and trade associations in the fight to promote transparency, accountability and the end of bulk metadata collection through US surveillance reform legislation.

The letter (.PDF), addressed to government figures including US President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) Admiral Michael Rogers and various House members, underscores the need for reform which will both protect national security but will also preserve the right to privacy.

The catalyst for the letter is the USA Patriot Act, which underscores and acts as the legal basis for the NSA's bulk metadata collection programs, which is set to expire on June 1, 2015.

The letter states:

"There must be a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the Patriot Act, including under the Section 215 records authority and the Section 214 authority regarding pen registers and trap & trace devices.

Any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users' rights. The bill must contain transparency and accountability mechanisms for both government and company reporting, as well as an appropriate declassification regime for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decisions.

We believe addressing the above must be a part of any reform package, though there are other reforms that our groups and companies would welcome, and in some cases, believe are essential to any legislation."

The companies say it has been nearly two years since the first news stories revealed the scope of the NSA's spying, and "now is the time to take on meaningful legislative reforms" which maintain national security but also protect privacy, transparency, and accountability.

The Reform Government Surveillance coalition now counts Apple, AOL, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo! and Google amongst its members.

The group's principles are based on the idea of placing "sensible" limitations on government surveillance powers, and introducing strong checks and balances when governments are granted the power to spy -- in order to prevent abuse and keep the concept of privacy intact. In addition, the group promote transparency concerning government demands for data imposed on technology companies, as well as respecting the free flow of information across borders.

David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer at Google commented:

"We have a responsibility to protect the privacy and security of our users' data. At the same time, we want to do our part to help governments keep people safe. We have little doubt that Congress can protect both national security and privacy while taking a significant, concrete step toward restoring trust in the Internet."

If you wish to add your name to the letter in support, you can do so here.

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