In the wake of leaks surrounding the NSA's surveillance programs, eight of the largest tech companies have allied in a concerted effort to push for government reform. In full-page ads in multiple newspapers and online Monday, the companies—AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo—will unveil their Reform Government Surveillance campaign.
In an open letter signed by all eight companies, they write about their concernfor personal liberties:
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.
The letter also asserts the companies' commitment to keep users' data secure and pushes for more concrete legislation regarding online surveillance.
Despite outward appearances, the effort probably isn't entirely about the public good. As The New York Times notes, "while the Internet companies fight to maintain authority over their customers’ data, their business models depend on collecting the same information that the spy agencies want." In short, the companies have a bottom line to protect, and the perception that their data is insecure hurts that bottom line.
The effort is particularly reliant on an argument that the United States should set the example in surveillance reform for the rest of the world. Yahoo's Marissa Mayer said in a statement that, "“Recent revelations about government surveillance activities have shaken the trust of our users, and it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world.” Google co-founder Larry Page echoed, in a similar statement, that the search giant's security efforts are "undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world."
On Thursday, President Obama went on Hardball to discuss possible reforms to surveillance programs. He was vague on the subject though, promising, "some reforms that can give people more confidence."