US National Security Agency

US technology giants push back on snooping and urge restraint

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 4:14am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 4:14am

Just because you are hypocritical doesn't mean you are wrong. Eight prominent US technology companies, including Google, Facebook and Apple, have jointly published an open letter to the US Congress and President Barack Obama urging strict new limits on government surveillance.

The companies not only argue that the cavalier and extensive way in which US spy and law-enforcement agencies demand confidential client data hurts their businesses and reputations. They go further by making the case that the almost limitless surveillance of internet and other electronic means of communication directly undermines the constitutional rights and liberties of US citizens and hurts relations with other peoples.

Of course, they weren't kicking and screaming - but almost always meekly complied - when officials routinely demanded access to private data before Edward Snowden made his earth-shaking revelations over the summer. But now that the world has become aware of the mind-boggling extent of US and British electronic surveillance, including the targeting of the leaders of close allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the companies know they have to be seen to be taking a strong stance that goes beyond protecting strictly their business interests.

But just because their motive may be self-serving doesn't mean their demands are wrong. They want limits on governments' authority to collect user data; better oversight and accountability; transparency about the nature and frequency of government demands; and respect for the flow of information on the internet rather than attempts to restrict it. All these are sensible demands. They deserve public support.

Officials in London and Washington have ceaselessly denounced Snowden for undermining national security. The worldwide public reactions, including the latest from the US tech companies, rather show how necessary and justified he was in making the revelations. The tech giants are tacitly acknowledging how right Snowden has been all along.