Tech Giants Demand Changes to Spy Laws

(CN) - Eight major tech companies joined forces Monday to ask the federal government to stop the National Security Agency's spying programs revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
     AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo wrote the joint letter to President Barack Obama and Congress, urging them 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."
     "While the undersigned companies understand that governments need to take action to protect their citizens' safety and security, we strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed," the letter states.
     On the website Reform Government Surveillance, the tech companies lay out five principles of their campaign, with quotes from the companies' executives.
     "Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote. "The U.S. government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right."
     The tech companies fear the government's dragnet will drive users away from their sites.
     "People won't use technology they don't trust," wrote Brad Smith, executive vice president of Microsoft. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."
     Twitter's CEO Dick Costolo added: "Unchecked, undisclosed government surveillance inhibits the free flow of information and restricts their voice. The principles we advance today would reform the current system to appropriately balance the needs of security and privacy while safeguarding the essential human right of free expression."
     Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer called for a change to surveillance laws "to ensure transparency and accountability for government actions."
     Just before Thanksgiving, The Committee for the Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief with the once-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, claiming the court had mishandled demands to reveal the government's attempted justifications of its program of collecting Americans' call and email data.
     The committee included Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Courthouse News Service and 21 other media outlets.
     The FISC ruled Sept. 13 that the ACLU and its national chapter have standing to seek the release of precedential FISC opinions that underlie the NSA's surveillance programs.
     Meanwhile, the ACLU continues to challenge the mass collection of Americans' call data that came to light with Snowden's leaks. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court in June, claiming its constitutional rights are being trampled and that whistleblowers are afraid to contact it out of fear of being spied on by the federal government.
     The government has maintained that it is doing nothing illegal, and that its actions are backed by all three branches of the federal government.