In a rare joint initiative, an alliance of 63 technology companies, investors and nonprofit entities signed a letter to President Obama, James Clapper, Eric Holder and several congressional leaders late last week asking for government disclosure of digital communications monitoring. First reported by National Public Radio, the letter indicates: “The U.S. government should ensure that those companies who are entrusted with the privacy and security of their users’ data are allowed to regularly report statistics reflecting requests for information about their users.”
Grand Rapids Business Journal notes businesses in every region of the country have (some legal) duties to protect employee information, and notes the concerns of many local businesses related to security issues based on proprietary product or service information.
The ramifications are as significant on the local level as on the international level, and as such Grand Rapids Business Journal lends its voice to the initiative. Local tech companies are not alone in their concern. So, too, are the growing number of independent entrepreneurs and the increasing number of freelance service providers.
Parenthetically, the privacy concerns reported last week were given a sidebar in cyber security reports that also revealed college and university information systems are commonly targeted. The reports specifically cited the University of Wisconsin, where the volume of hacking attempts was reported as “stunning,” with 90,000 to 100,000 attempts per day from China alone.
The 22 tech companies requesting surveillance transparency, including Apple Inc., AOL, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, specifically asked federal office holders and judicial leaders to allow the companies to report: the number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legal authorities; the number of individuals, accounts or devices for which information was requested under each authority; the number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information and (or) other information.
The technology leaders — as well as the investors — should be recognized for their support of security on behalf of their users, and especially for their willingness to take the lead in providing information.
The letter also urges the Department of Justice, “on behalf of the relevant executive branch agencies, agree that Internet, telephone and web-based service providers may publish specific numbers regarding government requests authorized under specific national security authorities. … We further urge Congress to pass legislation requiring comprehensive transparency reporting by the federal government and clearly allowing for transparency reporting by companies without requiring companies to first seek permission from the government or the FISA Court.”
The Business Journal applauds the final paragraph of leadership:
“Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so, too, should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable and respectful of civil liberties and human rights.”