Computer Companies Propose Global Surveillance Principles

Say governments need limited ability to compel service providers to disclose user data

Online and computer tech powerhouses have joined to propose new limits on government surveillance, including the kind of data collection transparency and limits members of Congress are usually calling for from them.

On Dec. 9, AOL, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Google asked the government, both here and abroad, to reform laws and practices, with the U.S. taking the lead.

The call comes in the wake of last summer's series of revelations about government surveillance, they said.

In a letter to the President and Congress, the companies called on the world's governments to abide by a set of core principles: "1. Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information; 2. Oversight and Accountability; 3. Transparency About Government Demands; 4. Respecting the Free Flow of Information; 5. Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments."

“People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it," blogged Microsoft executive VP, General Counsel Brad Smith about the new effort.

“The surveillance reform principles laid out today are vital for 21st century communications and trade," said Computer & Communications Industry Association President Ed Black in a statement. "We believe that leadership by the private sector, as demonstrated by these principles and these companies, is a vital part of finding global solutions in this area. We are seeing more than ever that the Internet is the world’s modern shipping lane, a key to global economic growth and the empowerment of billions. These principles will help preserve a more free, secure, resilient and less balkanized global information network."

“Actions speak louder than words, and we are very eager to work with these companies and the broader Internet industry to ensure that today’s statement of principles translates into concrete action to achieve meaningful change to the law – not just here in the US but around the world,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director of New America’s Open Technology Institute. “This global fight for surveillance reform will likely be a struggle of many years – a defining struggle for the future of the Internet and democracy in the 21st century – so we’ll save our standing ovation for when this emerging coalition of advocates and industry has successfully achieved the reforms being called for today.”