AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo have risen their voices-online- in a request that governments balance the need for security, individual privacy rights and “impact on trust in the internet” when collecting and processing private information.
These eight tech giants who signed have outlined the principles they deem acceptable for data responsibility, an open letter to the United States Congress, and quotes from their company leaders on a website, http://reformgovernmentsurveillance.com/.
The website calls for governments to stop collecting bulk data, and to be held accountable for the data they do collect. Governments “should allow important rulings of law to be made public in a timely manner so that the courts are accountable to an informed citizenry,” one of the principles states.
In the few cases governments do collect private user information, they should “allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information”, as well as promptly inform the public of the information they examined.
“The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust 21st century global economy,” the website says. “Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country”.
China has restricted their citizens’ access to a free internet for years now, locking out many of the big companies represented in this request for reform and hurting their expansion into what would be a lucrative market. More than ever, powerful tech companies feel the opportunity for involvement in some of the worlds’ largest nations slipping away because many of the services these companies would offer are blocked or crippled by government controls.
Criticism has been long leveled against the United States’ own aggressive stance against websites and domains outside of U.S. jurisdiction. In January 2012, SOPA was introduced as a bill to prevent piracy while at the same time granting the U.S. Department of Justice immense power over copyrights and the ability to censor content from the web. Protests from businesses reliant on a free Internet ultimately made the bill so unpopular that it failed to get passed. However, Congress has relentlessly tried to keep this bill alive in different incarnations that they try to draft in secret.
Speaking to Congress, the website says, “where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict”. Maybe now that the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley have united under reforming government surveillance, we will see genuine change.