The letter praised a bill that would end the bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans and create a privacy advocate to represent civil liberties interests within the secretive court that oversees the NSA.
“Transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to be done,” said the letter, which was sent to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Sen. Michael S. Lee (R-Utah), a judiciary committee member; and Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisc.), who are on the House Judiciary Committee.
“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.”
A turning point came when it was revealed that the NSA has hacked Google and Yahoo. To some, this amounted to a degree of intrusiveness that, though speculated about by privacy activists, was beyond what many in the industry thought possible.
The backlash from the technology industry is particularly striking in light of its once-cozy relationship with President Obama, who got money and votes out of Silicon Valley at historic rates last year.
Although Google’s general counsel, David Drummond, issued a statement Thursday expressing “outrage” and “the need for urgent reform,” a longtime security engineer for the company better captured the industry’s sentiment in a post on Google Plus, a social networking service.
“Even though we suspected this was happening, it still makes me terribly sad. It makes me sad because I believe in America,” wrote engineer Brandon Downey, after cautioning that he was speaking personally and not for Google.
The NSA took issue with the report, particularly any suggestion that the agency had scooped up data under presidential authorities to avoid the greater oversight required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“NSA conducts all of its activities in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies — and assertions to the contrary do a grave disservice to the nation, its allies and partners, and the men and women who make up the National Security Agency,” said a statement issued late Thursday by the agency.
Speaking at an American Bar Association conference in Washington, NSA General Counsel Rajesh De defended the agency’s practices.
“The implication, the insinuation, suggestion or the outright statement that an agency like NSA would use authority under Executive Order 12333 to evade, skirt or go around FISA is simply inaccurate,” De said. “There is no scandal about the lawfulness of NSA’s activities under current law.”