Tech firms send letter to Obama: no security back doors

Google and Facebook among those urging the President not to make them give the gov't access to data

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
May 19, 2015
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Ever since the whole Edward Snowden thing blew up a few years ago, and the big tech firms, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple were accused of colluding with the government in giving away user information, they have been fighting against that perception.

That has meant numerous transparency reports and a fight to disclose Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) disclosures requested by the government.

Basically, tech firms do not to give the perception that they are rubber stamps, and they want their customers to know, or at least to believe, that they are resisting government intrusion.

That is why a group of technology companies, over 50 in total, along with civil society organizations, as well as security and policy experts, sent a joint letter to President Obama on Tuesday, urging him to not sign into law any proposals that would force companies to leave a "back door" open for the government to come in and take data. 

Encryption, they wrote in the letter, "is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security," by protecting people from threats that range from "street criminals trying to steal our phones and laptops, computer criminals trying to defraud us, corporate spies trying to obtain our companies’ most valuable trade secrets, repressive governments trying to stifle dissent, or foreign intelligence agencies trying to compromise our and our allies’ most sensitive national security secrets."

Purposely making American companies potentially vulnerable would hurt the country's position in the world, make companies vulnerable to cyber security threats and put its citizens in a position of not being able to defend their own rights against a powerful government.

"We urge you to reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products. We request that the White House instead focus on developing policies that will promote rather than undermine the wide adoption of strong encryption technology," the letter says.

"Such policies will in turn help to promote and protect cyber security, economic growth, and human rights, both here and abroad."

Signers of the letter included companies such as Adobe, Coinbase, CloudFlare, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Apple, Rackspace, Tumblr, Twitter and Yahoo, as well as organizations like Fight for the Future, Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

In response to the revelations, some tech companies have begun designing their security systems to thwart efforts by the NSA to gain access to user data. Apple, for example, began encrypting all data on iPhones by default last year with the launch of iOS 8, while Google began allowing Android devices to be encrypted as well, though not by default.

The response from President Obama and the Justice Department was, essentially, that they need to be able to spy on people to keep them safe.

Data collection programs

PRISM was the name for a U.S. government program that allowed it to tap into the servers of numerous Internet companies in order to, essentially, spy on American citizens.

It was initially reported to have involved the government tapping into the servers of numerous Internet companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple in order to extract audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.

All companies involved denied giving the government access to their servers, and the government has released more details about the program, in which it said that the program, which was approved by Congress, only allows the government to target people after it gets approval from the courts. 

It was subsequently revealed that the NSA had other ways of securing encrypted data, including basic collaboration with domestic and overseas tech companies to build back doors into their security codes and giving the NSA the encryption key. 

This letter was first discovered by NBC News.

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