World’s top tech companies ask Congress to tighten NSA spying laws

Reuters / Dado Ruvic
Global technology giants like Google and Microsoft have teamed up with civil liberties groups to get Congress to change the country’s spying laws. Tech companies say they’re potentially losing billions in sales following Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations.

More than 40 companies wrote a letter to Congress and the Obama administration, sent Wednesday. Industry leaders such as Apple, Google and Facebook got in touch with civil liberties organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union to try and get Washington to change its spying laws, in the wake of the NSA scandal.

“Now is the time to take on meaningful legislative reforms to the nation’s surveillance programs that maintain national security while preserving privacy, transparency and accountability,” the group said in the letter.

“[T]he status quo is untenable and it is urgent that Congress move forward with reform.”

Tech companies have been amongst the biggest supporters of implementing change, as they believe they are losing out financially as the public becomes more suspicious about potential spying from the NSA, in the wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations.

Richard Salgado, who is Google’s director for law enforcement and information security, told a US Senate panel on November 13, 2014, that spying carried out by the NSA has “the great potential for doing serious damage to the competitiveness” of US companies such as Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. He added that “the trust that’s threatened is essential to these businesses,” Bloomberg News reported.

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a policy research group based in Washington, says that US companies may lose as much as $35 billion because the public has lost confidence in the security of their products.

READ MORE: Tech heavyweights Facebook, Google, Apple support bill limiting NSA spying

“The potential fallout is pretty huge, given how much our economy depends on the information economy for its growth,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington policy group, speaking to Bloomberg. “It’s increasingly where the US advantage lies.”

In their letter, the group said they want politicians to end the NSA’s power to collect public data en masse, while transparency measures should also be introduced so both the government and private companies can tell the public what surveillance agencies may be collecting.

They are hoping to make a June 1 Congress deadline, which will see some aspects of the current Patriot Act up for renewal. One section includes a controversial provision, known as Section 215, which allows the NSA to collect phone records of almost all Americans.

This is not the first time that tech giants have lobbied Congress to change the current spying laws. In November, their CEOs sent a letter to the Senate, asking lawmakers to demonstrate leadership and restore the confidence of internet users while keeping citizens safe.

READ MORE: Congress quietly expands NSA powers for spying on Americans

“It’s been a year since the first headlines alleging the extent of government surveillance on the Internet... We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish, and it must change,” the letter’s authors said.

However, they were unable to pass the motion as their attempts to reform the NSA were just two votes short of overcoming a filibuster in the Senate.

In December, Congress used a set of provisions to expand the surveillance of Americans by the NSA. The US government gave the agency what civil liberties advocates argue is an unprecedented authority to collect and store data belonging to American citizens.

In order to get the spending bill passed in December by the House, they had to remove a provision for NSA backdoor surveillance. They put the emphasis on tech companies to make sure that the products that they produced were more surveillance-friendly.

Also, under Section 309 of the Intelligence Authorization Act 2015, Congress allowed the government unprecedented access to have surveillance powers without a warrant, which would allow for “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of US phone and internet data.