Eight of the world’s largest Internet companies sent an open letter to President Barack Obama on Monday calling for reforms to how governments collect information from the web, ostensibly to protect national security.
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“While the undersigned companies understand that governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety and security, we strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed,” said the letter, whose signees include Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).
The letter recommends five principles the web companies believe world governments should adhere to when drafting reforms of their surveillance programs.
The debate over government surveillance of private information shared on the web intensified over the summer with the release of documents by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden which revealed that government surveillance on the web was far more widespread than formerly known.
“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide,” the letter said.
Also on board seeking reforms are Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and AOL (NYSE:AOL).
The groups say the balance has shifted away from laws that protect the privacy rights of individuals and instead favor powerful government surveillance agencies.
“This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change,” the letter states.
The companies have created a web site, reformgovernmentsurveillance.com, where they have listed the reforms they support.
“Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information. The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right,” Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg says on the site.
Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said consumers won’t use “technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”