The request comes two weeks after the House of Representatives passed a bill to end the most controversial aspects of domestic spy programs while stopping short of the technology industry’s demands for greater restrictions on the bulk collection of Internet data. The Senate intelligence committee is meeting today to discuss the House legislation.
The CEOs’ letter comes on the one-year anniversary of the publication of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposing the range of government surveillance tactics. The public backlash has prompted Congress and President Barack Obama to consider new parameters for spy programs.
“It’s been a year since the first headlines alleging the extent of government surveillance on the Internet,” CEOs from the coalition of companies wrote in an open letter to senators that was to be published today in the New York Times and Washington Post. “It is time for action.”
None of the executives who signed the letter are scheduled to appear at today’s Senate hearing. Witnesses on the agenda include Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett and FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano.
The House bill that passed on May 22 would end one of the programs under which the NSA collects and stores as much as five years of phone records on Americans. The technology companies said that bill is flawed because it might allow the government to collect e-mail and other Internet data in bulk. The companies, which created the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, are asking the Senate to fix the flaw.
“As the Senate takes up this important legislation, we urge you to ensure that U.S. surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight,” the CEOs wrote.
Legislation must also “allow companies to provide even greater detail about the number and type of government requests they receive for customer information,” the executives wrote. The letter doesn’t list additional changes sought.
Along with ending the bulk collection of Internet data and allowing for more transparency, the U.S. should prohibit the use of search warrants to force companies to turn over communications of foreigners stored abroad and commit to not hack into data centers or cables of companies, Smith wrote.
“It’s now apparent that the government intercepted data in transit across the Internet and hacked links between company data centers,” Smith said. “We need to strike a better balance between privacy and national security to restore trust and uphold our fundamental liberties.”
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