A coalition of technology and internet companies is lobbying to curb U.S. National Security Agency surveillance powers and for more transparency on government data requests.
The Reform Government Surveillance coalition, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft and Apple, added its support for the race to pass a bill through the U.S. Senate before the end of the year, which would inhibit mass data collection from emails and internet metadata.
“The Senate has an opportunity this week to vote on the bipartisan USA Freedom Act,” said the coalition in an open letter sent to the Senate. “We urge you to pass the bill, which both protects national security and reaffirms America’s commitment to the freedoms we all cherish.”
The bill would also allow technology companies to disclose the number and types of data demands from government as part of the continued transparency push from the industry.
If the USA Freedom Act fails to pass through the Senate before the end of the year the process will have to restart in January, and will be scrutinised by a new Congress controlled a Republican party more favorable to government surveillance.
The USA Freedom Act was passed through the House of Representatives in May with bipartisan support and is now set for a vote in the Senate after Nevada Democrat and Senate majority leader Harry Reid filed a procedural motion to have the bill heard.
Privacy advocates and technology groups championed the bill originally but many revoked their support after compromises expanded the definition of what data the government can collect.
The Senate vote on 18 November will allow debate on amendments to begin on the bill, although whether enough senators will vote in favor is unknown.
Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents hundreds of technology companies globally and hosts the largest electronics trade show in the world International CES, wrote an open letter urging support for the bill.
“American technology companies have been hurt by reaction to the revelation of the U.S. government’s bulk data collection,” wrote Shapiro. “Many companies have lost business, or face laws designed to restrict data flows, due to foreign governments’ fear that the US government can reach company-managed data at will.”
“Several companies, including members of CEA, have already lost contracts with foreign governments worth millions of dollars. Further, several governments may now limit the free flow of data across borders, damaging the utility and functionality of the internet,” he wrote.
Technology companies, including Apple and Google, retaliated to the NSA revelations by implementing end-to-end encryption and enhancing security on mobile devices, protecting personal data as standard.
Pushback from technology companies, including Microsoft and Facebook, saw a limited transparency deal struck with the U.S. Justice Department in February, which the new bill will enhance allowing companies greater freedom to disclose security requests for user data.
The Reform Government Surveillance coalition also recommitted to reforms beyond the USA Freedom Act, describing it only as a step in the right direction.
“We will continue to work with Congress, the Administration, civil liberties groups and governments around the world to advance essential reforms that we set forth in a set of principles last year,” wrote the coalition.
“Such reforms include: preventing government access to data without proper legal process; assuring that providers are not required to locate infrastructure within a country’s border; promoting the free flow of data across borders; and avoiding conflicts among nations through robust, principled, and transparent frameworks that govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions.”