Much as they did a month ago with a previous bill, several tech giants have signed on to an open letter in support of the recently-introduced USA Freedom Act. AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo all endorsed the bill, which would limit the FISA rules the NSA currently uses to justify bulk collection of data. The letter focuses primarily on the issue of transparency, namely allowing these companies to disclose more information about what data the government has requested of them. Each company has taken a slightly different path in trying to get the government to change its policies surrounding this kind of transparency — but aligning together behind this bill could be a good sign that it could pass, especially since it appears to enjoy broad bipartisan support on the hill.
However, the letter also goes a step beyond the simple transparency issue, calling for "substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms" for government surveillance. Although the letter doesn't specify exactly what those protections should be, it's an important step for these companies to push beyond asking for simple "transparency."
The beginnings of reform
The USA Freedom Act is co-sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Before introducing the bill, the two co-sponsors penned an editorial at Politico, arguing that "the intelligence community has failed to justify its expansive use of these laws. It is simply not accurate to say that the bulk collection of phone records has prevented dozens of terrorist plots."
In a separate statement introducing the bill, Leahy said "It is time for serious and meaningful reforms so we can restore confidence in our intelligence community," Presumably, each of the six companies who have signed on to this letter are also hoping for a restored public confidence in the security and privacy of the data on their servers as well. It might not yet be the ideal fixes for the NSA that we're waiting for, but it looks like a start.