Internet companies protest U.S. government spying

Students of the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel uncoil a placard showing US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden as part of a campaign by German activists to grant asylum for Edward Snowden.
Students of the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel uncoil a placard showing US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden as part of a campaign by German activists to grant asylum for Edward Snowden. CARSTEN REHDER/AFP/Getty Images

TORONTO – Many major Internet companies continue to rally the U.S. government to reform the government surveillance programs that they say undermine a user’s right to freedom online.

On the one year anniversary of the first of many leaks that would reveal a bevy of cyber surveillance programs, CEOs of the world’s biggest tech companies issued a letter to members of the U.S. Senate, calling on the Obama administration to reform government spying.

READ MORE: Obama orders changes to NSA programs

“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,” reads the letter.

“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.”

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The document was signed by nine tech CEOs including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Larry Page.

It urges the U.S. government to end the bulk collection of Internet metadata and allow companies to provide more detail about the number and type of government data requests they receive for customer information.

“Confidence in the Internet, both in the U.S. and internationally, has been badly damaged over the last year. It is time for action,” it reads.

Cyber surveillance becomes a world issue

It was one year ago that the Guardian published its first bombshell report based on leaked U.S. National Security Agency documents, provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, detailing ways the agency was spying on Internet users.

That report, and the many that followed, revealed details of the agency’s PRISM program – which let the NSA run surveillance on foreign citizens using services from major Internet companies – and the gathering of phone records of U.S. citizens.

READ MORE: What is PRISM? A cyber-surveillance explainer

In the following months, more reports based on the documents were released , revealing the NSA had spied on government leaders and foreign countries and used a sophisticated tool to monitor what users do on the web.

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As a result, government spying and online privacy have been widely discussed over the last year.

More companies have started issuing transparency reports detailing the number of information requests they receive from governments.

READ MORE: Google transparency report reveals government data requests have doubled since 2010

Apple, Facebook, Yahoo and Pinterest all released their first transparency reports following the Snowden revelations. U.S. telecom companies including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast also began issuing transparency reports.

On Thursday, Canadian telecom giant Rogers reported on its government requests for the first time, alongside Internet service provider TekSavvy.

Reset the Net

A more user-based anti-NSA spying campaign was released Thursday from Internet advocacy group Fight for the Future.

The campaign named “Reset the Net” urges developers, website administrators and even users to start embracing “NSA-resistant privacy tools.”

Website administrators and developers are encouraged to use encryption tools such as SSL on their websites and apps, while average users are asked to embrace services that use open-source encryption tools to show support.

“Folks like the NSA depend on collecting insecure data from tapped fiber. They depend on our mistakes – mistakes we can fix,” a YouTube video promoting the campaign says.

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Websites including Google, Reddit and Imgur have backed the effort.

This week, Google released the source code for its new extension called End-to-End for the Chrome web browser, which allows users to send encrypted emails.

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