Major Tech Companies Fight Big Government to Protect Data Privacy

Federal agencies routinely place requests for major technology companies to relinquish user data without a warrant. The technology companies believe that federal agencies have misused powers granted by the USA Patriot Act of 2001. Microsoft, Google, Facebook and seven other major tech companies wish to restrict government surveillance powers and restore public trust. Google has developed a webpage to report requests for user data. A group of the major technology companies formed a coalition in 2013, known as the Reform Government Surveillance coalition. The coalition signed a letter this week backing a bill titled, “The USA Freedom Act.”

A bill proposed by Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., proposed on October 29, 2013, known as the USA Freedom Act, challenges the authority of federal agencies to eavesdrop, monitor citizens online and would put an end to dragnet-style data gathering. The bill would allow Google and Facebook to issue public announcements concerning a governmental agency’s broad demand for user data. Prism, a program that “incidentally retains American’s Internet data,” would be limited by the bill.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, federal agencies site the Freedom of Information Act bestows the government the right to collect personal data without a warrant. The bill would increase transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. An independent constitutional advocate would be created to dispute FISC actions. Federal agencies would be required to ensure that requests for Internet data was related to an investigation concerning terrorism or espionage. The proposer of the bill does not wish to hamper the ability of federal agencies to gather information related to an investigation related to terrorism. The purpose of the bill is to protect the privacy of law abiding United States citizens. Federal agencies have a bill entitled, “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act,” that would allow the sharing of Internet traffic information.

The Reform Government Surveillance coalition’s goal to “promote the free flow of data across borders” is now supported by Ireland. Ireland has asked for assistance from the European Commission concerning requests from the United States for access to e-mail. The United States claims the e-mails involve drug trafficking. The Irish government fears the U.S. may bypass laws protecting data privacy to obtain access to the e-mails. A Magistrate judge ruled in favor of the federal agency; however, Microsoft has filed an appeal.

Photo courtesy of Cispa by Marie Augustine at Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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