Tech giants to Congress: Please change how NSA spies on people

Companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon band together in a push for internet surveillance reform.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
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Thirty-one tech companies are pushing Congress to change the NSA's mass surveillance.


Silicon Valley's giants are tired of US spies standing on their shoulders to see further.

In a letter dated Friday and signed by 31 tech companies, including Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, the firms are asking Congress to make reforms to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That's the section that allows the National Security Agency to gather web data of citizens outside of the US -- and in some cases, against Americans.

Section 702 was first revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in bombshell leaks surrounding the NSA's mass surveillance program. The snooping combed through everything a person did digitally, putting tech companies at odds with the government for years. The section is set to expire by December 31 unless Congress decides to renew the program.

Silicon Valley leaders hope the politicians on Capitol Hill choose to change Section 702, instead of renewing it. In the letter (PDF), they offered five recommendations for internet surveillance reform, including greater transparency on how many Americans are swept up in the snooping, narrowing the scope to prevent innocent people from being spied on, and greater oversight on the program.

"We are writing to express our support for reforms to Section 702 that would maintain its utility to the U.S intelligence community while increasing the program's privacy protections and transparency," the group wrote.

Since 2013, Google has wanted to disclose what data they're legally required to hand over to the government, which the feds prohibit. Apple has faced battles of its own, with the San Bernardino terrorist's locked iPhone and the FBI's order to crack it open. In just the second half of 2016, national security orders for Apple doubled to 6,000 requests since the first half of the year.

Apple was not among the 31 tech companies who wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, on Friday, even while the debate on privacy vs. national security rages on. Apple did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

In March, the Internet Infrastructure Coalition wrote a letter to the Judiciary Committee warning that Section 702 could have "grave economic consequences" if it were not reformed.

It's still unclear how many Americans were swept up by the wide-reaching surveillance, but Section 702 is estimated to be behind a quarter of the NSA's snooping in 2014.

You can read the letter below:

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