Internet Giants Urge U.S. To Reform Government Surveillance

    December 9, 2013
    Chris Crum

AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have joined together to urge the U.S. government to reform government surveillance laws and practices.

The companies have set up a website called Reform Government Surveillance, where they outline five principles, and offer commentary from the CEOs of each company (Brad Smith, General Counsel and EVP, Legal and Corporate Affairs speaks up for Microsoft, which is currently between CEOs).

Principles discussed include limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ info, oversight and accountability, transparency about government demands, respecting the free flow of info, and avoiding conflicts among governments.

“Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information,” says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right.”

“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,” says Google CEO Larry Page. “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.”

Google’s Transparency Report is available here. It was updated last month, showing that government requests for user information have doubled over the past three years.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer says, “Protecting the privacy of our users is incredibly important to Yahoo. 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. Today we join our colleagues in the tech industry calling on the United States Congress to change surveillance laws in order to ensure transparency and accountability for government actions.”

Like Facebook and Google, Yahoo has had its own share of privacy concerns from users in recent months. For example, the company implemented an email address recycling program, and new account holders have been getting sensitive emails meant for previous account holders. Yahoo has maintained that this has only happened to a small number of users.

To its credit, the company recently announced that all Yahoo products will be encrypted by the end of Q1.

The companies have put together an open letter to President Obama and Congress, which is included on the site. We’ve also included it below:

Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,

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.

For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.

We urge the US to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight. To see the full set of principles we support, visit


AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo

Will it make a difference?

Image: Google ZeitgeistMinds (YouTube)