US internet giants demand sweeping changes to spy laws in open letter to Obama

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The world’s leading technology companies have addressed Washington in an open letter to demand a radical overhaul of surveillance laws, an international ban of bulk data collection and for the US to lead the way in restoring trust in the internet.

Apple, AOL, Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo and Microsoft whose combined value is estimated at $1.4 trillion published an open letter Monday advocating radical reforms.

The letter states that while the leaders of these companies understand the duty of government to protect their citizens the balance has tipped too far away from the rights, enshrined in the US constitution, to individual privacy.

“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 way 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,” the letter reads.

Seven of the above mentioned companies also created a special website where they listed what they believe are the key principles regarding the use of the internet and state surveillance, which should be adopted by government.

The top of this list was limiting the government’s authority to collect users’ information.They also called for a clear legal framework, which intelligence agencies must adhere to when collecting information, including an independent adversarial process.

The technology companies also warn that governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally or inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country.

The companies argue that governments must work together to agree new international standards regulating surveillance and hint at legal disputes and a damage to international trade otherwise.

“In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty or MLAT processes,” they say.

The companies claim the revelations of NSA surveillance by whistleblower Edward Snowden have damaged the public’s faith in the internet, which is having a direct effect on their business interests.

“People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need help restore it,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel.

His words were echoed by the chief executive of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer: “Recent revelations about government surveillance have shaken the trust of our users,” she wrote.

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