Tech companies send letter about US surveillance law reform legislation

Tech companies including Facebook, Microsoft and Google have sent a letter to the US House of Representatives requesting that the NSA’s powers be curtailed when it comes to collecting data from Americans.

It specifically concerns the so-called Section 702 provision. This enables the NSA to track down and store emails and other digital communications from suspected foreigners who are abroad. These activities are better known by program names such as Prism and Upstream. However, part of the surveillance of these foreigners is also the recording of communications between them and US citizens. In this way, data is still collected from American citizens, while Section 702 specifically focuses on non-Americans. The tech companies want to limit this and ask for more judicial supervision on this.

The NSA, or National Security Agency, has previously stopped collecting data from Americans on its own initiative in this context. Officially, it still has the power until the end of this year, after which the House of Representatives must decide what to do with the program. If they don’t take action, the program will expire, but they can also let it continue unchanged or, for example, take the suggestions of the tech companies. Donald Trump’s cabinet is in favor of letting the law pass unchanged.

The companies are also requesting that the process be made more transparent. They want the freedom to publish how many data requests they receive under Section 702 and how much data they have had to give up in the process. Finally, there must also be a stricter definition of what information is worth collecting, in order to limit the amount of unjustified surveillance among foreigners as well.

The letter has been signed by Adobe, Amazon, Cisco, Cloudflare, Dropbox, Mozilla, Reddit and many more companies and agencies, among others. It is striking that Apple is absent from that list. Recode has asked the tech company for comment, but it has not responded to date. This large-scale surveillance, also described as dragnets, was uncovered as part of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations. Separately, the Wikimedia foundation is also involved in a lawsuit against the NSA for the same reasons.