Major U.S. tech companies press Congress for increased transparency in internet surveillance programs

A bipartisan group is in the process of drafting legislation which is expected to address some, if not all, of the concerns raised in the said letter.

More than two dozen U.S. tech companies in the U.S., including Amazon and Facebook has urged the U.S. Congress to make broad changes to laws that govern internet surveillance so as boost privacy concerns and improve government transparency.

This marks Silicon Valley’s first public effort aimed at creating contentious debates over the 2016’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, parts of which are set to expire on December 31, unless of course the U.S. Congress re-authorizes them.

Of particular concern, to privacy advocates and to the tech industry is Section 702 which allows U.S. intelligence agencies to collect vast amounts of communications from foreigners, with incidental U.S. citizen collections as well.

All of the data can be searched by analysts without needing a search warrant.

“We are writing to express our support for reforms to Section 702 that would maintain its utility to the U.S. intelligence community while increasing the program’s privacy protections and transparency,” wrote the companies in a letter to Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee.

Section 702 is a vital tool by in the warchest of U.S. intelligence officials. The section is responsible for almost a quarter of the surveillance data gathered by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

The quantum of data collection, as revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, is so expansive that it is mind boggling. Although Snowden’s disclosures caught the intelligence community by surprise, the impact of the massive data collection has yet to go down on our collective spine.

Civil liberties advocates have since long labelled them as lacking sufficient safeguards and being too expansive.

Significantly, the letter has requested lawmakers to codify the recent termination of a type of NSA surveillance that collected American communications sent to or received from someone living overseas that mentioned a foreign intelligence target.

The letter also urges Lawmakers that all of the data collected under section 702 should necessarily be under judicial oversight. They have also requested the definition of “foreign intelligence information” be narrowed down, so as to limit the quantum of data collection.

The letter has also asked for more leeway in how companies are allowed to publish the number of surveillance requests and more declassification of orders approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Signatories on the letter include Google, Twitter, Cisco, Uber, Snap and Yahoo.

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