Microsoft joins coalition calling for government surveillance reform

Xbox maker, Google, and others team up to ask Obama and Congress to make reforms that ensure government surveillance is restricted by law.

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Some of the world's largest technology firms, including Xbox maker Microsoft and search giant Google, have banded together to petition President Obama and members of Congress to make reforms that ensure government surveillance of private data is restricted by law.

Earlier today, new documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that American and British government agencies had infiltrated Xbox Live and World of Warcraft and mined the online networks in a bid to hunt potential terrorists.

The seven companies (Microsoft, Google, AOL, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Yahoo) together launched the new website called Reform Government Surveillance, which lays out five main principles that it urges Obama and Washington to consider. On its own, Microsoft previously blasted "government snooping" and vowed to enhance encryption for its services going forward.

The group argues that transparency is essential regarding government data demands. Companies like Microsoft and Google should be allowed to publish the number and nature of demands for user information, the group said. The coalition also wants to see greater limits placed on governments' authority to collection user information. Governments should limit surveillance to "specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications," the group declared.

The website also features quotes from executives at the seven companies.

"People won't use technology they don't trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it," Microsoft legal and corporate affairs general counsel Brad Smith said.

"Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information. The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said.

The coalition's open letter to Washington is featured below.

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 US 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

Sincerely,

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

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