Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo and AOL urge Barack Obama to curb NSA surveillance powers

An unlikely coalition of eight of the world’s largest tech companies have issued a joint statement to US President Barack Obama urging him to curb the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers.

In a joint statement to the president and the US congress, including AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo.

“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 joint statement reads.

“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour 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.

“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.”

The joint statement comes after a series of damaging leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden to The Guardian newspaper about widespread surveillance programs by the US signals intelligence agency the NSA.

The leaks revealed that the NSA’s Prism program had been spying on major US tech giants, including Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

In Australia, the Snowden leaks also caused headaches for Prime Minister Tony Abbott after the ABC revealed the Defence Signals Directorate (now called the Australian Signals Directorate) has targeted Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s mobile phone.

The revelations have also made international businesses more wary of using US-based cloud computing services.

A survey by the Cloud Security Alliance found 56% of non-US residents were less likely to use US-based cloud providers following the Prism revelations, potentially costing the US-based tech giants billions in lost revenue.

“People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it,” Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith says.

Aside from the open letter, the tech giants have also published a five point plan at www.reformgovernmentsurveillance.com.

The plan calls for limits to governments’ authority to collect users’ information, increased oversight and accountability for intelligence agencies, transparency about government demands, respecting the free-flow of information over national borders, and avoiding conflicts between governments.

“The security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information,” Google chief executive Larry Page says in a statement.

“This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It’s time for reform and we urge the US government to lead the way.”

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