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Two tech organizations express concern about Uncle Sam’s data collection methods

The news reports describing the U.S. Government’s data collection and surveillance programs are having global economic and policy ramifications, and these concerns must be addressed, say two technology business organizations. 

That’s the strong view of two leading technology business organizations, the Software Information Industry Association (SIIA) and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), which they expressed in a detailed letter sent on October 3 to the White House’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology.  

“Global customer and policy responses from a number of governments demonstrate that the current perceptions of U.S. surveillance practices are putting U.S. businesses at a competitive disadvantage in international markets,” said the letter. “The Administration’s responses to date are further undermining public trust, and are accelerating the push for forced localization and other onerous policies that have the potential to balkanize open platforms, including the Internet, that are key to continued transformative innovations and global commerce.” 

“A number of steps should be taken by the U.S. government to limit the negative impact of the recent disclosures and the U.S. response,” the two tech organizations explained. “The measures we outline would promote an appropriate culture of transparency surrounding the government’s intelligence-gathering programs -- without national security risks. Indeed, promoting appropriate transparency surrounding intelligence-gathering is not a goal limited to the U.S.; it should be pursued internationally,” the tech associations explained. 

The full letter is available here. 

ITI and SIIA are urging the White House review group, appointed by President Obama in August, to take a hard look at how the federal government deploys data collection tools while respecting individuals’ privacy and civil rights and not further jeopardizing U.S. innovation and economic growth. The organizations offered concrete ideas for the oversight group to consider, based on three principles: 

  • Economic security and national security are deeply connected;
  •  Security can be advanced in a privacy-protective manner; and,
  • Restoring trust, both domestically and internationally, must be a driving force for the review group’s work.

 Policy prescriptions put forward by SIIA and ITI include: 

Greater transparency into the data requests being made by the federal government of private companies -- Transparency is a core value of the technology sector. Companies should be permitted to disclose the number of government orders for information made under specific legal authorities, including the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Companies should be permitted to disclose the number of individuals or accounts, including accounts of business customers, impacted by the orders received as well as the type of information that is sought by such orders. In addition, as appropriate, the U.S. Government should supplement its mandatory annual reporting with information similar to what companies should be permitted to disclose: the total number of orders under specific authorities for specific types of data, and the number of individuals or accounts affected by each. 

Increased oversight of government data collection programs -- Review the structure of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and work to ensure that its operations have rigorous supervision and that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has the resources it needs to conduct its mission. 

Use technology to protect privacy, not exploit loopholes -- Consider how technology tools can be utilized to protect the integrity and confidentiality of information collected and maintained as part of properly authorized and supervised surveillance activities and to better address certain privacy and civil liberties concerns. 

Without such actions, SIIA and ITI indicated in a news release they issued on October 3 that they fear that the international repercussions for the U.S. Government and, by association, U.S. companies operating overseas will be significant. Already, major trading partners like Brazil and the European Union are considering strict measures that would begin to unravel the global economy by forcing companies wanting to operate within their borders to house all operations there or restrict the transfer of data outside their jurisdiction.