Several leading technology companies have called on world governments — and especially the US government — to abide by five principles when engaging in information surveillance:
1. Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information
Governments should codify sensible limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data that balance their need for the data in limited circumstances, users’ reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the Internet. In addition, governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications.
2. Oversight and Accountability
Intelligence agencies seeking to collect or compel the production of information should do so under a clear legal framework in which executive powers are subject to strong checks and balances. Reviewing courts should be independent and include an adversarial process, and governments should allow important rulings of law to be made public in a timely manner so that the courts are accountable to an informed citizenry.
3. Transparency About Government Demands
Transparency is essential to a debate over governments’ surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers. Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly.
4. Respecting the Free Flow of Information
The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust 21st century global economy. Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country. Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.
5. Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments
In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty — or “MLAT” — processes. Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict.
More background on this initiative and the guidelines can be found at reformgovernmentsurveillance.com
Eric Snowden’s exposure of National Security Agency practice has reminded me of a now quarter-century old critique of US intelligence practices by a British pal. He commented that even the old rifle versus shotgun analogy did not capture the difference between US intelligence gathering and behavior by other spy agencies. “A shot-gun still requires some rough targeting. US intelligence is more like a gas attack, wafting wherever the wind blows.”
My British colleague explained the difference as a matter of resources and especially budget. “We have to choose our targets carefully. The US has the money, men, and machines to spend billions on blind alleys.”
In this new century we have women and even better machines. The so-called “black budget” also found in the Snowden leaks suggests the NSA spends about $10.5 billion per year, roughly 20 percent of the overall federal intelligence budget. The British government spends about $3.2 billion on its overall intelligence operations.
I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. (John F. Kennedy)