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Tech Companies Demand New Restraints on NSA Surveillance

By Melanie Batley   |   Friday, 01 Nov 2013 01:30 PM

The technology industry is taking a more aggressive approach to government collection of private data, demanding the NSA rein in its surveillance program amid revelations this week that the government secretly broke into online communications links to obtain the information of hundreds of millions of Google and Yahoo user accounts.

The news sent shock waves through the technology industry which, until now, had merely called on the government to provide more transparency about the nature and extent of the information being collected on private citizens, The Washington Post reports.

But in a significant departure from that approach, the heads of the six leading U.S. technology companies — Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL — sent a letter to lawmakers Thursday backing a bill that would end the bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans and create a privacy advocate to represent civil liberties interests within the FISA court which oversees the NSA surveillance program.

"Transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to be done," said the letter to four members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

"Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs."

Emotions ran high after the most recent revelations, and in a statement to the Post Wednesday, Google's chief legal officer said the company had "long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping" and has not provided the government with access to its systems.

"We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform," he said.

Officials, however, have since denied the reports that the NSA infiltrated information from tech companies outside the scope of the court-approved PRISM program.

"The implication, insinuation, suggestion or the outright statement that an agency like NSA would use authority under Executive Order 12333 to evade, skirt or go around FISA is simply inaccurate," NSA General Counsel Rajesh De said during a speech at the American Bar Association conference in Washington, according to the Post.

"There is no scandal about the lawfulness of NSA's activities under current law."

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