Reform Government Surveillance, a coalition of major tech companies that has pushed for greater transparency and stronger limits on the intelligence community, is frustrated with the House of Representatives' recently passed surveillance compromise bill. In an open letter on the anniversary of the first Edward Snowden leak, the CEOs of Apple, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook, Dropbox, AOL, and LinkedIn have urged the Senate to pass a stronger version of the USA Freedom Act, restoring provisions that were removed under pressure from the White House and intelligence community.
In the next few weeks, the Senate has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and pass a version of the USA Freedom Act that would help restore the confidence of internet users here and around the world,while keeping citizens safe.
Unfortunately, the version that just passed the House of Representatives could permit bulk collection of internet "metadata" (e.g. who you email and who emails you), something that the Administration and Congress said they intended to end. Moreover, while the House bill permits some transparency, it is critical to our customers that the bill allow companies to provide even greater detail about the number and type of government requests they receive for customer information.
It is in the best interest of the United States to resolve these issues. Confidence in the internet, both in the US and internationally, has been badly damaged over the last year. It is time for action. As the Senate takes up this important legislation, we urge you to ensure that US surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight.
The Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which was formed after revelations about US surveillance but includes global reform in its scope, has been in operation since late last year. Its member companies include many that were linked to the NSA's internet data collection program; Google and Yahoo in particular have allegedly had their networks tapped by the agency. They've spent almost a year not only backing legislation but lobbying the Obama administration for greater transparency, arguing that by not allowing them to reveal real numbers about how many requests they receive, the intelligence community has made a limited program look larger than life. They've seen limited success, including a deal that allowed them to publish information in wide "bands."
Earlier this year, reform seemed to have steady momentum in Congress, with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) leading the effort to limit the NSA's phone and internet record collection. But a pair of sudden amendment deals saw the House version of their USA Freedom Act stripped of important limits, definitions, and transparency provisions. Leahy has promised to keep those sections in the Senate bill, but he and the tech lobby — which has provided the most visible corporate opposition to NSA surveillance — will be aligned against dissenting voices in the Senate and the Obama administration alike.