Tech companies seek limits on government surveillance

By Evan Perez

Some U.S. technology giants are asking the Obama administration and Congress to rein in government surveillance.

Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Google and Microsoft are among the companies signing an open letter arguing that surveillance has gone too far. The companies say they're improving encryption and fighting to limit surveillance requests, but they're also asking for new legal changes to limit surveillance.

This comes after recent revelations from documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. His leaks have lifted the veil on the agency's vast surveillance databases, many of which are part of programs with intelligence agencies in other countries. The aim, the NSA and other agencies say, is to prevent terrorism and protect security.

In their joint letter, the companies say they understand that "governments have a duty to protect their citizens." But, they say: "The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual - rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for change."

The law requires tech companies to cooperate with court-ordered surveillance programs, and the NSA is known to use other means to snoop on e-mail and other communications.

The companies are now seeing a backlash from customers. And in some cases, U.S. companies are seeing their businesses hurt in other countries, because they are viewed as working too closely with U.S. intelligence.

Microsoft's general counsel, Brad Smith, gave a nod to the effect the Snowden disclosures are having on the companies.

In a blog post, Smith said: "People won't use technology they don't trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."