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Oi, Obama. Rein your spooks in, demands web giants' alliance

Where the US leads, the world follows – or so tech's big dogs hope

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Eight web heavyweights have banded together to call on the US and other governments to rein in indiscriminate surveillance by state security agencies.

AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo are asking for a general reform of government surveillance laws and practices because the "balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual”.

The tech firms said that their efforts to improve encryption and push back against overly broad snooping requests are not enough by themselves – and the US needs to take the lead in reforming surveillance practices.

In an open letter to US President Barack Obama and US Congress, the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition called for changes so that "surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight".

The tech firms' statement is couched in the high principles of protecting individual rights and freedoms in the wake of revelations about dragnet surveillance programmes by the US and UK, exposed by former NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden.

It doesn't mention an issue closer to these US firms' balance sheets - revelations about snooping are making it far harder for companies based in the country to sell cloud-based services to enterprises and (to a lesser extent) consumers. Telecoms firms are conspicuous by their absence as signatories to the lobbying effort.

On a more positive note, Microsoft and Google have put aside their differences – remember Redmond is in the middle of an aggressive sledging "Scroogled" campaign to "raise awareness" of the various ways Google uses people's personal data to make money – to jointly call for a cap on government snooping. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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