The top US tech companies and privacy organisations have published an open letter to President Obama, the director of the NSA, and other important lawmakers, demanding major changes in how the country conducts its domestic surveillance program.
The group calls itself the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, and include a slew of digital and human rights organisations — including the ACLU, the Human Rights Watch, and the Internet Association — along with technology behemoths like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Mozilla. Last year this same coalition had posted another open letter to the Senate in support of the USA Freedom Act.
“Our broad, diverse, and bipartisan coalition believes that the status quo is untenable and that it is urgent that Congress move forward with reform,” the letter writes.
At the heart of this issue is Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Section 215 is the oft-contested provision that gave the government a seemingly unfettered ability to spy and collect data on citizens without needing to show probable cause. That portion of the bill is set to expire on June 1, giving lawmakers the opportunity to change the way the government handles its mass surveillance program.
The letter calls for two important benchmarks to be included in any new legislation introduced:
- It demands a “clear, strong, and effective end to build collection practices.” This is a direct response the Edward Snowden leaks, which revealed widespread systematized government snooping of US citizens’ private records.
- The document also calls for better transparency — both from the government as well as companies. A full understanding of what data the US collects as well as what companies provide to the government still remains unclear. The organisations penning this missive believe that both the government and companies should be transparent about what surveillance practices they follow.
Whether such drastic reforms will happen remains unclear. “NSA programs, including the bulk telephone metadata program, are crucial anti-terror and foreign intelligence tools that should be reauthorized,” said Republican Representative Devin Nunes. Despite his comments, most politicians believe some changes should be expected for any new versions introduced.
The letter’s organisations believe now to be an inflection point for mass reform.
“We have a responsibility to protect the privacy and security of our users’ data,” wrote Google’s Chief Legal Office David Drummond. “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.”