What Facebook, Seven Other Tech Giants Wrote To The U.S. Government On Surveillance Reform

Facebook teamed up with AOL, Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo on An Open Letter to Washington regarding global government surveillance reform, urging governments around the world to take action.

Facebook teamed up with AOL, Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo on An Open Letter to Washington regarding global government surveillance reform, urging governments around the world to take action.

The eight companies said in their introduction to the letter:

The undersigned companies believe that it is time for the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information.

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.

Consistent with established global norms of free expression and privacy and with the goals of ensuring that government law enforcement and intelligence efforts are rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight, we hereby call on governments to endorse the following principles and enact reforms that would put these principles into action.

The leaders of the respective companies also offered their own testimonials, with Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg writing:

Reports about government surveillance have shown that there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information. The U.S. government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right.

The letter read:

Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,

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 balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.

For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.

We urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight. To see the full set of principles we support, visit ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com.


AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo

And Privacy International issued the following response to the letter from the eight companies:

A strong, unified voice from the tech industry is absolutely essential to reforming the mass and intrusive surveillance programs being run by the Five Eyes, so we welcome today’s statement from AOL, Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo.

Companies have obligations to respect human rights and not be complicit in mass surveillance. Given what has been publicly revealed over the past six months, we must know for certain that the companies we entrust with our information on a daily basis are defending users and pushing back against government requests for our data. The launch of these industry principles today are a first step to restoring much of the trust in the industry that has been thrown into question since the release of the Snowden documents.

These industry principles are an important reminder that the fight against mass surveillance has only just begun. As the initial uproar at the tactics and methods being secretly undertaken by the NSA, GCHQ (U.K. Government Communications Headquarters), and other Five Eyes agencies subsides, we are left with a stark reality: Gross violations of the right to privacy as states access and share bulk metadata records, outdated laws that give free reign to intelligence agencies to conduct extraterritorial spying, eroded encryption standards, and spreading distrust in technologies. It is time for drastic changes to how intelligence is regulated, conducted, and overseen, and we welcome these companies’ contribution to this debate.

Readers: What did you think of the letter from Facebook and the other seven companies to the president and Congress?

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.