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Technology Firms Urge Changes to NSA Spying

Technology Firms Urge Changes to NSA Spying
February 13, 2014 9:37AM

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Top execs from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, LinkedIn and Twitter have formed a coalition known as Reform Government Surveillance, and are urging changes to the NSA spying programs that would include a government agreement not to collect bulk data from Internet communications. Tumblr, Mozilla and Reddit also support the effort.

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A coalition of leading U.S. technology firms joined an international protest Tuesday against the U.S. government's spying programs, urging more limits on collections of Americans' electronic data and greater oversight and transparency about the secret operations.

Top executives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, LinkedIn and Twitter published a joint statement and sent a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama and members of Congress. The coalition of tech firms, known as Reform Government Surveillance, urged changes that would include a government agreement not to collect bulk data from Internet communications.

Technology companies expressed outrage last year after media accounts based on leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed that the U.S. and the Britain intercept massive amounts of electronic Web metadata abroad from foreign computer users and sometimes from Americans. Executives highlighted their concerns during talks with administration officials about the spying programs, but Obama did not commit to curtailing the NSA's sweeps of data from the Internet.

The stance taken by the technology firms provided a public boost to "The Day We Fight Back," a day of protest against the government's spying operations organized by civil liberties and privacy advocates. Activists urged Americans to write and call members of Congress in protest. By midafternoon, "The Day We Fight Back" claimed backers had sent 104,000 emails and made nearly 50,000 calls to Congress.

"Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information," said Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in a statement on the Reform Government Surveillance Web site. "The U.S. government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort."

The civil liberties groups, which include the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are trying to mirror the success that activists had in 2012, when a similar protest effort helped derail two major anti-piracy bills in Congress. The organizers oppose a bill sponsored by Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, that would codify and provide legal underpinnings for many of the NSA's current operations.

"The Day We Fight Back" movement prefers a bill co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, that would end the bulk collection of phone records and restrict sweeps for electronic and other data.

The Reform Government Surveillance coalition urged the U.S. and other governments to "codify sensible limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data that balance their need for the data in limited circumstances." The group also called for strong "independent" court review that includes "an adversarial process." (continued...)

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