Chief executives from Apple, Google, Facebook and other tech companies published an open letter to the Senate Thursday — the one-year anniversary of Edward Snowden’s first National Security Agency leak — asking the upper chamber to restore major curbs to bulk surveillance removed in the passage of the House bill.
“In the next few weeks, the Senate has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and pass a version of the U.S.A. Freedom Act that would help restore the confidence of internet users here and around the world, while keeping citizens safe,” Yahoo, Twitter, Microsoft, Dropbox, AOL, LinkedIn and the others wrote.
“Unfortunately, the version that just passed the House of Representatives could permit bulk collection of internet ‘metadata’ (e.g. who you email and who emails you), something that the administration and Congress said they intended to end.”
In its original form, the bill carried the endorsements of a large portion of the privacy, civil liberties and tech communities, but it shed some of its strongest provisions under White House and intelligence community pressure before passage.
The amended bill also reduces the level of transparency companies can exhibit when reporting information about data requests they receive from the government to the public.
“It is critical to our customers that the bill allow companies to provide even greater detail about the number and type of government requests they receive for customer information,” the letter said. “Confidence in the internet, both in the U.S. and internationally, has been badly damaged over the last year.”
The companies are all part of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which formed after the leaks began last year and has lobbied both the White House and Congress on multiple reform efforts since.
Vermont Democrat, Senate president pro tempore and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy sponsored and drafted the upper chamber’s version of the bill, and said he plans to restore the provisions removed in the House. That version has its first hearing scheduled in the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday.
“It is time for action,” the coalition wrote. “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.”