In an interesting development, seven big internet companies (AOL, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo) have jointly set up a website listing five principles by which government surveillance can be reformed to protect the general privacy of people while satisfying the government’s genuine need for security information. The five principles are:
- Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information
- Oversight and Accountability
- Transparency About Government Demands
- Respecting the Free Flow of Information
- Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments
Noteworthy is Apple’s absence from this list.
The big issue is whether these companies are going to use their considerable clout to really push for these changes or whether it is a public relations exercise because of the beating they have taken. That question will be answered by how they react when the government flatly turns down their request. If the question was just about terrorist threats, then it may be possible for the government to agree. But the government wants all the information as part of its attempt to monitor all the activity of all the people. The terrorist threat is just one element of it but provides a valuable cover story. And this pervasive monitoring of everyone now extends to monitoring online games and that state and local police agencies are also spying on people.
What would be a genuine test of these companies’ bona fides is if they upped the encryption standards to make it much harder for the NSA to get at them and refused to provide back door access.
But still this action should be gratifying to Edward Snowden that the risks he took are paying off. The fact that he was just voted The Guardian newspaper’s Person of the Year is another validation of his efforts.