Five questions answered on technology firm requests for US surveillance reform

Technology corporations are petitioning the US government to change their strategy on surveillance and allow the companies to disclose the quantity of requests that they are forced to cooperate with.

Eight technology giants, including Google, have requested the US government change its surveillance policies. We answer five questions on the requested reforms.

Which companies have made this request?

Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Yahoo! have clubbed together to request the US government makes “wide-scale changes” to its current surveillance.

The companies have formed an alliance on the matter called Reform Government Surveillance group.

What has the group said exactly?

In an open letter published on its website the group said:

We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.

The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour 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 a change.

Why has this alliance come about now?

As the alliance's statement points to significant revelations this year about the extent of spying by the US government.

Documents were leaked in June this year by ex-US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden that highlighted the various methods and frequent occurrence of US spying activities.

Since then further revelations have continued to leak, such as allegations the US has been spying on Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was also revealed the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been bugging closed discussions inside both the United Nations and the European Union.

How does this affect tech firms?

Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all confirmed they have complied with orders to hand over data relating to "national security matters" to the US authorities. The companies have been not allowed to share details of these requests or how many they have had with their customers.

Companies have requested they be allowed to publish details of data requests.

"Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information," they state.

"In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly."

What have individual companies said?

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook has said: "Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information.

"The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right."

While Larry Page, chief executive of Google, said that security of users data was "critical" for firms, but added the same had been "undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world.”

Senior engineers from Google and Facebook give testimony to a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing in 2010. The issues of consumer privacy have long been of concern to technology companies. Photo: Getty.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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