Microsoft to President Obama: spying on citizens undermines freedom, constitutional rights

by: John Knicely Updated:

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REDMOND, Wash. - Microsoft teamed up with its tech competitors to send a strong, pointed message to President Obama and Congress.  The open letter sent Monday blasts the government spying programs that were exposed by NSA contractor Edward Snowden. 

Here’s the letter: 

Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,

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 balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor 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.

For our part, we are focused on keeping user’s data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.

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. To see the full set of principles we support, visit ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com

Sincerely,

AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo 

The White House responded with the following statement from National Security Council Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden:

We have received the letter from the eight companies, and we appreciate both their concerns and their recognition of this important global issue.  As you know, the President directed a review of our surveillance capabilities and programs several months ago, and we are working toward the completion of that review. Throughout this process, we have engaged with these and other companies, with civil society and with national security and privacy experts, in a dialogue about privacy and the security of our nation and our partners and allies. We are going to continue that engagement through the end of our review and after.

Without getting into the specific details of the proposals, we agree with the companies’ calls for governments’ attention on practices and laws regulating government surveillance.  Respect for privacy is deeply embedded in American values and laws, and the United States is the source of many of the privacy principles that underlie modern privacy regimes around the globe. We share the companies’ goals of ensuring that all nations live up to the letter and spirit of commitments to fundamental freedoms while ensuring the safety and security of citizens. We also agree with much of what is in the companies’ proposed principles, many of which we have long argued for.  Indeed, we already are developing the details of how best to put these principles into action across a variety of proposals.  As we have said repeatedly, we are committed to conducting intelligence activities with appropriate constraints, oversight, transparency and accountability.

We remain firmly committed to respecting the free flow of information around the globe and the support of interoperable frameworks for governments on the Internet, such as an improved mutual legal assistance treaty process.  The President made these principles, and the critical role of multi-stakeholder governance, a cornerstone of his International Strategy for Cyberspace in 2011, recognizing that an open, interoperable, secure and reliable Internet is at the core of digital innovation and the long-term development of global economies and societies. 

Through the coming weeks, we will be actively considering these companies’ concerns and other issues raised by the stakeholders we have met with over the last few months, as well as the input of the President’s Review Group.

 

Patrick Leahy, the Democratic senator who helped write the Patriot Act, has put together a bipartisan bill that would stop the NSA's bulk collection of your data.  

KIRO 7 found mixed reactions to the letter and government spying. 

When asked if he was worried about his emails being read by the government, Scott Hopkins said “No, it would be incredibly boring.  If they want to punish some guy and make him read my emails, I guess that's OK.” 

His son felt differently though. 

“We can't really have it both ways,” said Alex Hopkins.  “And say other countries should not surveil their people or surveil us.”