Apple, Microsoft, Google and others join push against government spying

Online companies get tens of thousands of government requests for user data; Senate vote expected as early as tonight

Apple, Microsoft, and Google are among 10 top tech companies that this week signed onto a letter backing passage of a bill that would curtail bulk collection of Internet metadata by government agencies.

The USA Freedom Act also requires transparency when the government demands  user information from technology companies.

Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have revealed that the U.S. government claims the right to read personal online data without warrants.

Online companies regularly receive requests from federal agencies to hand over user data.

Google, for example, has created a transparency webpage that reports on government requests for user data; the site claims tens of thousands of requests have been received over the past couple of years.

Microsoft has also received more than 100,000 requests affecting even more user accounts -- more than three times the number Google received.

Last year, the 10 tech companies formed the Reform Government Surveillance coalition to increase transparency involving government surveillance programs that seek user data.

"Now, the Senate has the opportunity to send a strong message of change to the world and encourage other countries to adopt similar protections," the coalition's letter states.

The U.S. Senate is expected to take up the measure as early as tonight.

Even if the USA Freedom Act passes, the Reform Government Surveillance coalition said it plans to continue to work with Congress, the Obama administration, civil liberties groups and governments around the world to "advance essential reforms that we set forth in a set of principles last year."

The 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.

"Now is the time to move forward on meaningful change to our surveillance programs," the letter states.

This story, "Apple, Microsoft, Google and others join push against government spying" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 hot cybersecurity trends (and 2 going cold)