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Lobbying and trade groups representing most of the biggest tech companies in the world — including Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft — joined forces Monday to urge Congress to rein in the National Security Agency's collection of personal data.
Less than a week after a federal court declared the NSA's bulk collection of telephone records to be illegal — and three weeks before a controversial part of the post-Sept. 11 USA Patriot Act is set to expire — the seven groups released a joint letter arguing that "trust has declined measurably among both U.S. citizens and citizens of our foreign allies" since Edward Snowden began leaking details of the U.S. data collection two years ago.
As the biggest handlers of electronic personal data, Facebook, Google and other big tech companies have a crucial stake in efforts to reform the NSA and deliberations over whether to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That's the section that had been used to bolster the NSA's bulk collection of phone data, and it's scheduled to expire on June 1 unless Congress intervenes.
A panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found last week that Congress hadn't actually given the NSA approval to indiscriminately collect the records of all telephone calls by millions of Americans not suspected of any crime. The court ruling has become a critical element of debate over whether to reauthorize the controversial provision.
The tech groups — whose members also include Yahoo, Amazon, eBay, Twitter, AOL, IBM, Intel, Samsung and Visa, among many others — specifically called on Congress to pass a separate bill called the USA FREEDOM Act. It would ban bulk collection of data without a court order, free companies from having to store such data indefinitely and bring the workings of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court into greater public view.
"As a result of increasing concern about the level of access the U.S. government has to user-generated data held by technology companies, many domestic and foreign users have turned to foreign technology providers while, simultaneously, foreign jurisdictions have implemented reactionary policies that threaten the fabric of the borderless internet," the groups said. "Meaningful surveillance reform is vital to rebuilding the essential element of trust not only in the technology sector but also in the U.S. government."
The White House endorsed the bill last week, but some civil liberties groups have opposed it for not, in their view, going far enough. The American Civil Liberties Union has neither endorsed nor opposed the measure, but Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU's Center for Democracy, wrote last week that "the vague language in the bill's key provisions will provide a new lease on life to surveillance programs that haven't yet been — and may never be — disclosed to the public."