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Can Tech Giants Spur Surveillance Reform – or are they part of the problem?

Author: Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC|April 8, 2015

From gay rights to government surveillance, some of the U.S.’s largest companies have been flexing their market-cap muscles in recent weeks.

Can Tech Giants Spur Surveillance Reform – or are they part of the problem?

From gay rights to government surveillance, some of the U.S.’s largest companies have been flexing their market-cap muscles in recent weeks.

Tech Giants Surveillance
Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash

This trend highlights the commonly understood assumption that the influence of corporate America extends far beyond the boardroom.

In response to Indiana’s new religious freedom law, several companies have pledged to limit their business activities in that state. Companies, such as Twitter, Yelp, Salesforce, and Eli Lilly, contend that the law essentially authorizes discrimination against gays and lesbians – and they are taking a public stand against it.

On the issue of surveillance reform, several of the country’s leading technology companies recently joined privacy and human rights advocates in a letter urging Congress to reign in the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata. Notable tech signatories include Google, Inc., AOL Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., LinkedIn Corp., Microsoft Corp., Twitter Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

The USA Patriot Act, which currently authorizes the NSA’s ongoing surveillance of communications data within the United States, is set to expire in June. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the extent of the federal government’s data gathering activities, critics have called for widespread changes to the law before it is reauthorized.

In their letter, the coalition states that it “believes that the status quo is untenable and that it is urgent that Congress move forward with reform.” Going forward, it makes the following recommendations:

  • There must be a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the USA PATRIOT Act, including under the Section 215 records authority and the Section 214 authority regarding pen registers and trap & trace devices. Any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users’ rights.
  • The bill must contain transparency and accountability mechanisms for both government and company reporting, as well as an appropriate declassification regime for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decisions.

While these efforts are seen by many as an important – if not noble – step towards continuing to counteract unreasonably intrusive NSA activity, critics continue to question such efforts. This “blame” debate continues to rage on since critics’ voices began to surface a couple of years ago that pointed to large tech companies as being partly “responsible” and sharing some measure of blame.

Whichever side you find yourself on, there will be more twists and turns to come.

At Scarinci Hollenbeck, our cybersecurity and data protection team will be closely monitoring the progress of the surveillance reform movement, particularly with respect to the efforts to terminate the bulk collection of metadata and establish greater transparency and accountability in the NSA’s future surveillance programs. Please stay tuned for updates.

Can Tech Giants Spur Surveillance Reform – or are they part of the problem?

Author: Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC
Tech Giants Surveillance
Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash

This trend highlights the commonly understood assumption that the influence of corporate America extends far beyond the boardroom.

In response to Indiana’s new religious freedom law, several companies have pledged to limit their business activities in that state. Companies, such as Twitter, Yelp, Salesforce, and Eli Lilly, contend that the law essentially authorizes discrimination against gays and lesbians – and they are taking a public stand against it.

On the issue of surveillance reform, several of the country’s leading technology companies recently joined privacy and human rights advocates in a letter urging Congress to reign in the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata. Notable tech signatories include Google, Inc., AOL Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., LinkedIn Corp., Microsoft Corp., Twitter Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

The USA Patriot Act, which currently authorizes the NSA’s ongoing surveillance of communications data within the United States, is set to expire in June. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the extent of the federal government’s data gathering activities, critics have called for widespread changes to the law before it is reauthorized.

In their letter, the coalition states that it “believes that the status quo is untenable and that it is urgent that Congress move forward with reform.” Going forward, it makes the following recommendations:

  • There must be a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the USA PATRIOT Act, including under the Section 215 records authority and the Section 214 authority regarding pen registers and trap & trace devices. Any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users’ rights.
  • The bill must contain transparency and accountability mechanisms for both government and company reporting, as well as an appropriate declassification regime for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decisions.

While these efforts are seen by many as an important – if not noble – step towards continuing to counteract unreasonably intrusive NSA activity, critics continue to question such efforts. This “blame” debate continues to rage on since critics’ voices began to surface a couple of years ago that pointed to large tech companies as being partly “responsible” and sharing some measure of blame.

Whichever side you find yourself on, there will be more twists and turns to come.

At Scarinci Hollenbeck, our cybersecurity and data protection team will be closely monitoring the progress of the surveillance reform movement, particularly with respect to the efforts to terminate the bulk collection of metadata and establish greater transparency and accountability in the NSA’s future surveillance programs. Please stay tuned for updates.

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