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December 10, 2013

Tech Companies Call on Government to Reign in Surveillance


Eight major tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, banded together to write an open letter to the president and Congress calling for the government to reign in surveillance that compromises people’s personal information.

The letter read in part: “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor 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.”

The letter was the tech industry’s latest attempt to regain public trust. Some customers complained, and some even switched email services,  after learning that these companies provided user data to the government for terrorism surveillance purposes. These revelations came from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who is currently living in exile in Russia while the US tries to bring him back to face criminal charges. Intelligence officials maintain the data collection operation has prevented a number of terror attacks.

President Obama has created an advisory panel to investigate whether citizens’ rights are being violated and has asked for recommendations.  The panel is expected to announce its findings soon– as early as this week.

Warm up questions
  1. How does the U.S. government try to prevent a terrorist attack?
  2. How does the U.S. government identify and track potential terrorists?
  3. Would you be willing to let your government monitor your emails? What about your text messages?
  4. Who are the biggest tech companies in the United States? Can you name some?
Discussion questions
  1. Which constitutional rights at stake in this story?
  2. Do you think that writing an open letter to the government was a good strategy? What do you think were the motives behind it? Also, what are the risk and benefits of this strategy?
  3. Do you think this strategy will work? How can individuals get involved either to support what the government is doing or try to change the government’s strategy?
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