Tech leaders urge Senate to beef up NSA reform bill
Apple and Google are among the firms saying the bill passed by the House is watered down. Will the Senate restore some of the original safeguards?
Lance WhitneyContributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
A group of nine major tech players is calling on the US Senate to muster up a stronger version of the USA Freedom Act recently passed by the House of Representatives.
Uniting under a common banner known as Reform Government Surveillance, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, AOL, and Dropbox have sent a letter to the Senate expressing their concerns about government surveillance and the current House version of the USA Freedom Act. Bearing the signatures of the CEOs of each of the nine companies, the letter asks for a version of the bill that "would help restore the confidence of Internet users here and around the world, while keeping citizens safe."
The USA Freedom Act was drafted in response to promises by the White House to limit the powers granted to the National Security Agency under the Patriot Act. As such, the bill was supposed to curtail the bulk collection of metadata. But the version passed by the House of Representatives last month removed some of the original elements, prompting critics to label it a watered-down version of the initial proposal.
In their letter, the tech companies highlight two specific concerns. First, the bill that was passed could still permit the bulk collection of metadata, such as who you email and who emails you, which the White House and Congress both pledged to stop. Second, the bill doesn't go far enough in allowing companies to provide greater details about the government requests they receive to share customer information.
The nine companies may yet fare better in the Senate than in the House. Congressional sources say the Senate will try to restore some of the stronger provisions that were removed as a result of lobbying by the Obama administration.
The full text of the letter appears below:
"Dear Members of the Senate:
It's been a year since the first headlines alleging the extent of government surveillance on the Internet.
We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish, and it must change.
Over the last year many of our companies have taken important steps, including further strengthening the security of our services and taking action to increase transparency. But the government needs to do more.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight."