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US tech majors tell Obama surveillance has gone ‘too far’

On Monday, eight IT firms - AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo - issued a joint letter addressed to US President Barack Obama and members of Congress.

world Updated: Dec 10, 2013 09:01 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
IT giants,Xbox Live,World of Warcraft

In an open letter to US authorities on Monday IT giants sought a reform of its surveillance programmes, which, according to new leaks, have not even spared online gaming sites.

US and UK spies trawl the World of Warcraft, Second Life and Microsoft’s Xbox Live, looking for terrorists, said reports based on fresh documents supplied by Edward Snowden.

His earlier leaks, starting June, had uncovered massive spying of voice and online communications that left phone and tech companies looking suspiciously complicit.

On Monday, eight IT firms -- AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo -- issued a joint letter addressed to president Obama and members of Congress.

They urged the US to take the lead in reforming government surveillance programmes across the world, saying they have tipped “too far ... away from the rights of the individual”.

Read:Watergate journalist backs Guardian handling of Snowden leaks

“This undermines the freedoms we all cherish,” they said in the letter, adding, “It’s time for change.” They went on to outline a set of principles that could correct the tilt.

About their own role going forward, the companies said they will be “pushing back on government requests to ensure they are legal and reasonable in scope”.

They will not, however, refuse to cooperate entirely.

And, it was noted, phone companies, which have been equally impacted by the snooping, had not joined this appeal or issued one of their own on similar lines.

There was no reaction from the government, which has had a standard response to previous Snowden-inspired reports: there was no intentional spying on Americans in the US.

That sounds less and less tenable every day.

The gaming sites that the NSA and its UK counterpart, the GCHQ, trawl for terrorists, for instance, are populated mostly by Americans, in their online avatars.

And they have been at it for a long time, possibly since 2007.

Read:Snowden files did not damage UK, says Guardian editor

The US found “potential Sigint value by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing” on the World of Warcraft.

And Second Life helped GCHQ smashed a criminal ring that was selling stolen credit card information online -- the informer, said leaked documents, was a digital avatar.

First Published: Dec 09, 2013 22:40 IST