Thursday, 28 November 2013

More Transparency?

Tech Giants Urge More Transparency over Industry Requests

Mainstream Internet giants, including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Twitter, argue that transparency would encourage debate over surveillance powers. This followed the UK’s GCHQ attempts to tap subsea fiber-optic cables in order to get access to vast quantities of broadband traffic.

The tech giants believe that the country needs to have a full public debate about the scale of Internet surveillance in order to provide confidence that state powers aren’t being abused. The companies have called for the British government to allow transparency about requests to hand over information on their users.

The files revealed by Snowden showed that GCHQ was tapping undersea fiber-optic cables in order to get access to online traffic under its Tempora program. Meanwhile, the US NSA has been collecting information directly from the servers of some ISPs, including people’s search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats. The Internet service providers didn’t even know about it.

The tech giants recommended that requests for user data made by the British government were made as transparent as possible. The companies themselves already publish transparency reports, because transparency is very important in maintaining confidence that powers aren’t being abused.

The companies also call for more transparency about state data requests in the United States: there has been a storm of political debate about the leaks, followed by a series of investigations which even forced the Obama administration to consider reforms. As for the British authorities, they have been slower to respond and Prime Minister has condemned the Guardian newspaper for endangering national security by publishing Snowden leaks.

The joint statement from Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Yahoo! also includes a plea for the authorities not to enforce any more legislation on access to user data until the country has considered reforming international treaties covering surveillance and law enforcement. The companies remain opposed to any move to resurrect the communications data bill. It is known that the suggested laws handing greater online surveillance powers to British authorities were killed off in 2013 but MPs have warned that spies are already up to get access to this kind of information through the above mentioned Tempora program.

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