Microsoft and a roster of tech heavy-hitters have asked the U.S. Senate to pass a bill curbing the National Security Agency’s powers to collect phone records, emails and other data in bulk.
The bill, which could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as this week, also would allow companies like Microsoft to disclose the rough number and types of requests the government makes for its customers’ data.
Government collection of personal data has been in the spotlight since Edward Snowden revealed last year that surveillance programs scooped up more information than previously disclosed.
The resulting debate is important to Microsoft and other tech companies. It has raised questions about how complicit U.S. technology giants were in the national security dragnet, spurring some to become more vocal advocates for their customers’ privacy. And Microsoft is finding that being perceived as linked to U.S. government snooping can harm its business interests.
As people increasingly store more of their personal data, from family photos to bank statements, on servers accessed online, the privacy and security protections of the firms doing the storing become more important.
Read the full text of the letter below.
The Senate has an opportunity this week to vote on the bipartisan USA Freedom Act. We urge you to pass the bill, which both protects national security and reaffirms America’s commitment to the freedoms we all cherish.
The legislation prevents the bulk collection of Internet metadata under various authorities. The bill also allows for transparency about government demands for user information from technology companies and assures that the appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place.
Since forming the Reform Government Surveillance coalition last year, our companies have continued to invest in strengthening the security of our services and increasing transparency. Now, the Senate has the opportunity to send a strong message of change to the world and encourage other countries to adopt similar protections.
Passing the USA Freedom Act, however, does not mean our work is finished. We will continue to work with Congress, the Administration, civil liberties groups and governments around the world to advance essential reforms that we set forth in a set of principles last year. Such reforms include: preventing government access to data without proper legal process; assuring that providers are not required to locate infrastructure within a country’s border; promoting the free flow of data across borders; and avoiding conflicts among nations through robust, principled, and transparent frameworks that govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions.
Now is the time to move forward on meaningful change to our surveillance programs. We encourage you to support the USA Freedom Act.
A slightly smaller slate of chief executives earlier in the year had asked Senate to take firmer action on privacy than a version of the bill that passed the House of Representatives.
“Confidence in the Internet, both in the U.S. and internationally, has been badly damaged over the last year,” said the letter, signed by Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella and counterparts at Apple, Google, Facebook, and others. “We urge you to ensure that U.S. surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight.”
Information in this article, originally published Nov. 17, 2014, was corrected Nov. 18, 2014. The article posted a previous letter sent by Microsoft and other technology companies to the Senate without publishing the most recent letter.
Dear Members of the Senate:
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.
Over the last year many of our companies have taken important steps, including further strengthening the security of our services and taking action to increase transparency. But the government needs to do more.
In the next few weeks, the Senate has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and pass a version of the USA Freedom Act that would help restore the confidence of Internet users here and around the world, while keeping citizens safe.
Unfortunately, the version that just passed the House of Representatives could permit bulk collection of Internet “metadata” (e.g. who you email and who emails you), something that the Administration and Congress said they intended to end. Moreover, while the House bill permits some transparency, it is critical to our customers that the bill allow companies to provide even greater detail about the number and type of government requests they receive for customer information.
It is in the best interest of the United States to resolve these issues. Confidence in the Internet, both in the U.S. and internationally, has been badly damaged over the last year. It is time for action. As the Senate takes up this important legislation, we urge you to ensure that U.S. surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight.
Tim Armstrong, AOL
Tim Cook, Apple
Drew Houston, Dropbox
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Larry Page, Google
Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn
Dick Costolo, Twitter
Satya Nadella, Microsoft
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!