Government Surveillance, Time to Reform?


There has been a recent push back against the government claiming that they are impeding on the privacy rights of users. Eight companies, including AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo, co-authored a letter to President Obama stating their concerns. In this letter, the major companies broached the issue of the global interference with users’ internet accounts and discussed the fact that governments do indeed need to protect their citizens but not at the cost of civil liberties. Along with the letter, was created to raise awareness and call the government to action.

Request for Transparency

One of the biggest requests in the letter was to create transparency. The website stated, “Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information.” Companies like Microsoft and Twitter recently announced steps that they are further taking to ensure that they are using the most advanced forms of encryption to ensure the security of their users’ information. Transparency from the government is a great concern for users and companies worldwide.

Request for Clearer Framework

Another major request the website brought to the forefront was the need for a “robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty, or ‘MLAT,’ processes. Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict.” For example, it is well known that in our country we have more freedom when it comes to internet use than other countries like China An agreed upon, transparent framework would avoid conflict between differing laws.

Request for Our Rights

The question that lies beneath all of this is at what point will the rights of internet privacy and our constitution be respected? The open letter to Obama on from the major companies states our constitutional right in regards to internet safety most accurately.

“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.”

In the words of Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, later reiterated by Uncle Ben to a soon to be superhero, “with great power, comes great responsibility.”