The federal government’s surveillance program that monitors the personal information of U.S. citizens has already generated a lot of criticism. But now it seems the country’s main Internet providers are taking their opposition a step further. A coalition of eight companies, including Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter Inc., have sent an open letter to President Barack Obama addressing their concerns about the program. They’ve also started a new website, http://reformgovernmentsurveillance.com.
It’s rare to see eight competitors join forces in this manner, but it demonstrates how united they are in their opposition to the government’s agenda. The government’s program threatens the financial livelihood of the technology industry. One hopes the united front these companies are displaying is more about their opposition to the program rather than the bottom line, but they are clearly worried about how the National Security Agency’s snooping.
According to the Associated Press, this new public relations offensive stems from the information provided in the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The companies have been seeking reforms that would allow them to disclose more information about the secret court orders that the government has used to obtain personal data from its citizens.
Since its inception, the program has continued to grow in scope, and agencies other than the NSA have become involved. According to USA Today, dozens of local and state police agencies across the country are also utilizing new technology to obtain the information of thousands of wireless users. Around one in four law enforcement agencies has utilized a tactic known as a "tower dump," which allows police to gather information regarding the identity, activity and location of any phone that connects to a targeted cellphone tower over a period of time. Some 25 police departments across the county have also used an expensive device known as a "Stingray" that acts as a phony cell tower, can be installed in a vehicle, and tricks phones into feeding data to police, according to USA Today.
With constant terrorist threats that never seem to end, and rampant random crime sprees that injure and kill thousands of people, it’s understandable that authorities would see the new technology as a way to gain an edge on the issues they are required to monitor. But personal privacy is one of the principals that this country was based on. We can’t allow it to be taken away. One hopes the participating companies are as altruistic as they appear to be.