The biggest names in the technology industry are demanding that the U.S. government slow down its surveillance programs that not only tend to violate privacy of citizens but also threaten their industry. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and AOL have formed a coalition to ask for reforms to ensure that intelligence gathering of governments respect privacy, are bound by rules, and should be subject to oversight.
The tech giants posted their grievances and suggestions on the website reformgovernmentsurveillance.com on Monday. The names that usually battle it out in the the field of technology voiced their concerns as one, following the documents exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in recent months revealed that the government has been syphoning data from major players in the tech industry.
"We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. 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. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for a change," the open letter of the coalition stated.
With the tech companies being a huge treasure trove of personal data that governments can filter to hunt down potential threats, as the NSA documents have revealed, they are also afraid that users may start behaving differently online if not decline to share information with them. This will certainly affect revenues and the overall financial status of the said companies.
The open letter of the eight companies are seen by analysts as a call of support from the general population that use their services and that the government is snooping on.
"Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information. The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right," said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The companies are also making a stand in court as they insist on having the permission to reveal the frequency of requests for data from agencies such as the NSA. At the moment, the law does not allow this which, according to the companies, damage their reputation as the public suspects that they provide a back door to the government to access data of their users.
"The security of users' data is critical, which is why we've invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information. This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It's time for reform and we urge the US government to lead the way," said Google CEO Larry Page.
While a lot of sectors have praised the call for reforms from the most influential companies in Silicon Valley, there are also those that see the move as too late.
"The companies are placing their users at risk by collecting and retaining so much information. As long as this much personal data is collected and kept by these companies, they are always going to be the target of government collection efforts," said Marc Rotenberg of the non-profit and advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center.