Reform Government Surveillance – an Alliance of Hypocritical Tech Giants?

Reform Government Surveillance – an Alliance of Hypocritical Tech Giants?
Reform Government Surveillance – an Alliance of Hypocritical Tech Giants?

The letter is available on a new website, reformgovernmentsurveillance.com. It says that while the companies understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens, "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."

It points out that the companies are focused on protecting their users' data and pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable. "We urge the US," says the letter, "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."

The alliance has five guiding principles: limiting the authority of government to collect users' data; oversight and accountability in what governments do; transparency in government demands; respect for the free flow of information; and the avoidance of conflicting laws between different governments.

"Several of the companies claim the [Snowden] revelations have shaken public faith in the internet and blamed spy agencies for the resulting threat to their business interests," reports the Guardian. "'People won’t use technology they don’t trust,' said Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel. 'Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.'"

The reality, then, is that this is a move driven by economic (that is, profit) principles. All of the companies, as subjects of NSA information demands, were aware of the issues long before the Snowden revelations; but with very few exceptions (Yahoo sought to push back, while Google strove for greater transparency) they have done little until public outcry has threatened their bottom line.

"The eight technology companies also hint at new fears, particularly that competing national responses to the Snowden revelations will not only damage their commercial interests but also lead to a balkanisation of the web as governments try to prevent internet companies from escaping overseas," says the Guardian.

'Hypocrisy alert.' warns the British political blog Coffee House (the Spectator's blog). "The giant online firms complaining of intrusion on personal data is laughable. Nearly all of the companies above are very happy to mine personal data to make money — they don’t like the government beating them at their own game," suggests Sebastian Payne, online editor of The Spectator

Writing in this week's Spectator magazine, before the tech alliance was revealed, Jamie Bartlett warned, "Never mind Big Brother, the all-seeing state; the real menace online is the Little Brothers — the companies who suck up your personal data, repackage it, then sell it to the highest bidder. The Little Brothers are answerable to no one, and they are every-where." The reality is that many of the companies in this new alliance have already obtained and stored the information that governments want from them.

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?