The Big Six of the Internet are taking on Big Government over privacy.
AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo teamed up in a letter to Congress to push for a dramatic scaling back of government-surveillance programs. The letter was sent a day after it was disclosed that the National Security Agency had tapped fiber-optic lines of Google and Yahoo as part of its spying efforts overseas.
The initial concerns voiced by the companies are for the optics of the controversy. They express frustration over the “confusion” government surveillance causes in the marketplace, and the “erroneous reports” that the companies allowed the government access to directly access their servers.
But the companies also make a direct appeal for reining in surveillance programs overall, in the interest in protecting rights.
“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,” the company wrote.
The letter mentions one proposed law under consideration, the USA Freedom Act, though it stops short of a full endorsement. The bipartisan Freedom Act would amend both the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to prevent the NSA from bulk collection of Americans' communications records. It also would create an advocate to the FISA court, where surveillance requests are made, to ensure civil liberties and allow for faster appeals of decisions by that secret court.
Technology companies affected by government surveillance have long complained that they are prohibited from disclosing requests for information from the federal government. Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer even went so far as saying that company disclosures of such requests amounted to treason.
The USA Freedom Act would allow companies to disclose more general information about government requests and subpoenas.
But while the USA Freedom Act has support from both parties, it also faces bipartisan opposition, so the chances of passage in either the House or the Senate remain unclear.