Apple’s Open Letter Demanding NSA Surveillance “Accountability”

Apple is working on a better tracking solution for its developers.

Apple had added its name to an open letter from the tech industry — also signed by Google, Microsoft, Facebook, AOL and Yahoo! — demanding “oversight and accountability” of NSA surveillance.

The letter, sent Thursday, was addressed to the sponsors of the USA Freedom Act, a legislation designed to end bulk data collection by the National Security Agency. It claims that the tech industry (including Apple) welcome debate about the best way to further national security, while also protecting individual user privacy interests.

Another key area the letter touches upon is the allowing of tech companies to be transparent about the number and nature of requests for information received, so that the public can better understand both the means by which governments can compel tech companies to disclose user data, and also the specific responses these companies make to targeted legal demands.

The letter, which can be seen in full at this link, is reproduced below.

Dear Messrs. Chairman, Ranking Members and Members:

As companies whose services are used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, we welcome the debate about how to protect both national security and privacy interests and we applaud the sponsors of the USA Freedom Act for making an important contribution to this discussion.

Recent disclosures regarding surveillance activity raise important concerns both in the United States and abroad. The volume and complexity of the information that has been disclosed in recent months has created significant confusion here and around the world, making it more difficult to identify appropriate policy prescriptions. Our companies have consistently made clear that we only respond to legal demands for customer and user information that are targeted and specific. Allowing companies to be transparent about the number and nature of requests will help the public better understand the facts about the government’s authority to compel technology companies to disclose user data and how technology companies respond to the targeted legal demands we receive. Transparency in this regard will also help to counter erroneous reports that we permit intelligence agencies “direct access” to our companies’ servers or that we are participants in a bulk Internet records collection program.

Transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to  be done. Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs.

We also continue to encourage the Administration to increase its transparency efforts and allow us to release more information about the number and types of requests that we receive, so that the public debate on these issues can be informed by facts about how these programs operate. We urge the Administration to work with Congress in addressing these critical reforms that would provide much needed transparency and help rebuild the trust of Internet users around the world.

We look forward to working with you, the co-sponsors of your bills, and other members on legislation that takes into account the need of governments to keep individuals around the world safe as well as the legitimate privacy interests of our users around the world.

This isn’t the first such letter Apple has puts its name on.

Earlier this year, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and others sent a letter to President Obama and other leaders in Congress, urging for greater transparency around national security-related requests, following revelations of U.S. government wiretapping.

  • Source CIO
  • Via IDG News Service (Bangalore Bureau
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  • lwdesign1

    While I applaud Apple, Google and the rest demanding more transparency in the government’s clandestine anti-privacy issues, it seems like a pointless activity and only has value as a PR campaign to reassure customers. Even if the CIA, FBI and Homeland Security said “we’re canceling all surveillance activities”, there’s no way to verify that they’re actually doing that, unless another Edward Snowden comes forward. The whole purpose of a spy community is to work undercover, without public scrutiny, to try to get information on other governments, international and domestic threats, military actions, etc. This activity can either be classified as “gathering information for an informed decision” or “criminally violating the privacy and trust of those spied upon”. It is simply not to be expected that the intelligence services of the U.S. will stop doing what they are designed to do: spy clandestinely and gather information.

    What is very interesting to note is that all the attention is being placed on what the U.S. government is doing — as if the U.S. is the only country with intelligence agencies that covertly tap phones, read emails, bug rooms, homes and entire buildings. The German government is furious that Angela Merkel’s phones have been listened into. The outrage is a complete pretense and a misdirector. If you believe that Germany doesn’t have its own covert operatives doing exactly the same thing, I’ll eat my hat. This is what governments do to try to get the best advantage possible over its competitors.

    I’m not saying I agree with it, but it’s simply ludicrous to think that the U.S. intelligence community is the only one doing this kind of spying activity. Every developed nation has its covert operatives, and they’re desperate to make a big fuss over U.S. activities to try to steer attention away from themselves and their own activities.

    My question is: Why isn’t there anyone questioning if other countries have their own spying apparatus? For example, England has had their MI5 and MI6 intelligence operations since WWII. Are they being right old chaps and never trying to listen in on any other leader’s phone calls or emails? Simply wouldn’t be cricket, eh wot?

About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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