Tech industry groups ask US Senate to 'swiftly pass' NSA curbs

The coalition of tech industry groups wrote a letter to Senate leaders as an erosion of trust was affecting their business abroad

Tech industry organizations have written a letter to leaders in the U.S. Senate, to ask them to swiftly pass the USA Freedom Act, legislation that is expected to end the collection of bulk domestic phone data by the National Security Agency.

Disclosures about the U.S. government's surveillance programs since June 2013 have led to an erosion of public trust in the U.S. government and the U.S. technology sector, anti-software piracy group BSA, Computer and Communications Industry Association, Information Technology Industry Council, Reform Government Surveillance and the Software and Information Industry Association wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell on Monday.

Reforms contained in the USA Freedom Act "will send a clear signal to the international community and to the American people that government surveillance programs are narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight," the industry groups added.

In June last year, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was collecting phone metadata of Americans from Verizon, the first of a series of revelations about U.S. surveillance in the country and abroad.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed in May an amended version of the USA Freedom Act that would limit the collection of phone data to certain "specific selection terms." But an expanded definition of the specific selection terms that can be used by the NSA to collect data from phone companies was criticized by civil rights groups and the industry, as it would continue to allow the NSA to target a large number of phone records.

The bill introduced in the Senate in July by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, and others aims to tighten the collection of data by the NSA by closing loopholes. In a letter to Leahy last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper expressed support for the bill.

The transparency measures and reform of surveillance proposed in the Freedom Act are expected to send positive signals abroad where U.S. tech companies fear losing business, the tech industry groups said, echoing a concern already expressed by a number of tech companies.

Cisco Systems' CEO John Chambers, for example, wrote to U.S. President Barack Obama in May, asking for his intervention so that U.S. technology sales were not affected by a loss in trust.

"As a result of the surveillance program revelations, U.S. technology companies have experienced negative economic implications in overseas markets," the tech groups wrote. "In addition, other countries are considering proposals that would limit data flows between countries, which would have a negative impact on the efficiencies upon which the borderless Internet relies."

Congress returned from recess on Monday though there may be only a few days of legislative business ahead of campaigning for midterm elections.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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