Leading US technology companies – including Apple, Google and Facebook – have called on Washington to stop spy agencies collecting huge amounts of ?telephone and internet data, and to limit the powers that compel them to hand over such ?information.
The unusual joint letter puts the companies on a collision course with the US intelligence establishment which is pushing Barack Obama to maintain access to bulk records, known as metadata, to track alleged terrorists across the globe.
The letter – signed by Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – sets out a series of principles to which, the companies say, governments should adhere.
The companies have been forced on to the defensive by revelations from documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, now in exile in Russia.
The US eavesdropping agency is able to seek approval from a secret court to collect bulk phone records at home and abroad and to sweep up internet browsing histories, searches and online chats.
Although the letter is directed at all governments, US intelligence leads the world in its capacity and ability to conduct surveillance on the internet.
A recent revelation that the NSA had hacked into the networks of Google and Yahoo to spy on unencrypted data ?outraged the internet community and helped companies overcome their differences about whether to publicly challenge the government.
“People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk and governments need to help restore it,” said Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice-president of Microsoft.
The joint letter includes a demand that governments should “limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes and not undertake bulk data ?collection of internet communications”.