Since Edward Snowden first sent shockwaves through political systems worldwide when he leaked classified documents, opposition has developed against the National Security Agency’s invasive spying tactics.
However, despite bipartisan support to reform NSA policy, little has changed. “The White House is not inclined to place significant new restraints on the NSA’s activities,” The Washington Post reported.
Nevertheless, despite the Obama administration’s continued support for a strong NSA surveillance program, major tech giants launched a new program called Reform Government Surveillance to strengthen NSA oversight and protect civil liberties.
This push comes as U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled yesterday that the seizure of an American’s phone records violates constitutional rights while remaining ineffective at preventing terrorism. However, Leon stopped short of enforcing an injunction that would immediately shut down the law, pending a likely appeal.
Google Lobbies Against the NSA
At the beginning of December, eight of the largest tech companies — Google, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL — penned an open letter to President Obama urging NSA reform.
Though the companies based part of their argument on James Fallows’ take at The Atlantic, that the NSA’s overreach harms American business competitiveness, weakening our economy domestically and abroad, the tech giants also made broad arguments based on constitutional and civil liberties.
Their five main points focus on the following actions:
- Shaping domestic surveillance policy based on existing privacy policies, limiting data collection only in cases where unlawful behavior is suspected.
- Creating strong legal checks and balances needed to ensure executive oversight of the NSA and prevent abuse of power.
- Allowing tech companies to publish information regarding data collection and to provide more specific information as to how much data is being collected.
- Arguing for a functioning 21st century global economy, in which a free and uninhibited flow of information is necessary to its success.
- Avoiding possible conflicts between governments, given the recent international debate regarding NSA surveillance tactics. Legal frameworks must be agreed upon by all governments, not just in the U.S.
How the Open Letter Might Impact Congress
Though it’s unclear exactly what motivated this letter to be released now, mounting analysis details how the NSA exploits technology companies like Google in order to track the actions of all citizens.
At the same time, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, who was instrumental in drafting the surveillance-focused Patriot Act, partnered with Senate chair Patrick Leahy to develop the USA Freedom Act.
This bill would limit the collection of phone records, one of the main components of PRISM, and tighten loopholes that give more power to the NSA. Because of the wealth and global standing of these tech companies, they have a considerable ability to sway opinions in Congress.
The American Civil Liberties Union states: “True reform must come from Congress and not the same executive branch responsible for implementing these unwise and un-American surveillance programs.”
Though Congress is currently out of session for the remainder of 2013, the new year might prove a big one for limiting the powers of the NSA and other surveillance programs worldwide.