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What Facebook, Seven Other Tech Giants Wrote To The U.S. Government On Surveillance Reform


ReformGovernmentSurveillanceCompanies650Facebook teamed up with AOL, Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo on An Open Letter to Washington regarding global government surveillance reform, urging governments around the world to take action.

The eight companies said in their introduction to the letter:

The undersigned companies believe that it is time for the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information.

While the undersigned companies understand that governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety and security, we strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed.

Consistent with established global norms of free expression and privacy and with the goals of ensuring that government law enforcement and intelligence efforts are rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight, we hereby call on governments to endorse the following principles and enact reforms that would put these principles into action.

The leaders of the respective companies also offered their own testimonials, with Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg writing:

Reports about government surveillance have shown that there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information. The U.S. government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right.

The letter read:

Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,

We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. 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. It’s time for a change.

For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.

We urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight. To see the full set of principles we support, visit ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com.


AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo

And Privacy International issued the following response to the letter from the eight companies:

A strong, unified voice from the tech industry is absolutely essential to reforming the mass and intrusive surveillance programs being run by the Five Eyes, so we welcome today’s statement from AOL, Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo.

Companies have obligations to respect human rights and not be complicit in mass surveillance. Given what has been publicly revealed over the past six months, we must know for certain that the companies we entrust with our information on a daily basis are defending users and pushing back against government requests for our data. The launch of these industry principles today are a first step to restoring much of the trust in the industry that has been thrown into question since the release of the Snowden documents.

These industry principles are an important reminder that the fight against mass surveillance has only just begun. As the initial uproar at the tactics and methods being secretly undertaken by the NSA, GCHQ (U.K. Government Communications Headquarters), and other Five Eyes agencies subsides, we are left with a stark reality: Gross violations of the right to privacy as states access and share bulk metadata records, outdated laws that give free reign to intelligence agencies to conduct extraterritorial spying, eroded encryption standards, and spreading distrust in technologies. It is time for drastic changes to how intelligence is regulated, conducted, and overseen, and we welcome these companies’ contribution to this debate.

Readers: What did you think of the letter from Facebook and the other seven companies to the president and Congress?

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Yahoo, I wrote this blog post from home!


… a Prezi musing on the recent work-from-home hullabaloo

This story begins with a confession: I’m a conflicted man. I enjoy working for Prezi. There’s a deep yet intangible satisfaction I get from working for a company that is trying to help people share ideas better. And no, I’m not a naive idealist, just someone who appreciates the value of a thought clearly communicated. I’m a fan of ideas! And yet, some ideas deserve to be shared more than others. While I try my hardest not to be prejudiced against any ideas that come my way, I guess I have a distinct preference for ideas that move things forward, rather than backward.

Recently, I heard the following words come through the speaker of my radio:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”
Jackie Reses, Head of HR at Yahoo!

Moments later, the electrical traffic on the nerve pathways of my brain began to hum into action. I couldn’t help myself, I knew instantly that I had something to say on this issue. And I wasn’t alone. The words on the radio didn’t just spur my grey matter into a fit of much needed early-morning exercise, they had also set off a global debate.

I listened intently to the radio for more than an hour, as Ms. Reses’s now infamous memo was made the subject of a heated phone-in debate. And when I opened my laptop, I could see that the blogosphere was also abuzz. As I laid my fingers down on the keyboard to begin writing, I could still hear the opinionated voices of all the people who’d called in to the radio station. I realized, even as my own opinion was coming into focus, that this was a topic on which Prezi might want to weigh in. Emboldened by this realization, I overcame the helpless feeling of futility that a blogger can sometimes experience when he considers adding his own two cents to an already overblown diatribe.

Arguments in favor of Yahoo’s decision to ban WFH centered on the belief that everyone who works from home is a lazy skiver. Placing that kind of trust in people, Yahoo! supporters said, is an open invitation for pajama-clad abuse of the system. In fact, aren’t lax labor policies such as this to blame for Europe’s stagnating economy? Not convinced? Just take a look at their Facebook timelines: they’re all out shopping at the supermarket in the middle of a weekday, in their bedclothes! How dare they? Callers on the other side of the fence were equally hyperbolic. To hear the Yahoo! detractors, you’d think office life at the once-great Web company was a hellish, Dickensian nightmare populated by tyrannical bureaucrats, and that the company was strangling in in its own prosaic processes. As I listened, I couldn’t help but feel that the truth of the matter could not be quite so black and white.

Weekly, company-wide meeting from the San Francisco perspective.To this end, work life at Prezi gives an interesting perspective on the debate. Not only does Prezi have a progressive work-from-home policy (based on trusting employees), we also happen to be the creators of a tool that makes it easeir to share ideas and collaborate remotely. If you’ve never used Prezi Meeting, for example, as a way to get work done with (up to 40) colleagues who aren’t able to come together in a room, you’ll be amazed what a strong argument it makes for WFH. We didn’t build Prezi Meeting specifically to strengthen the work-from-home argument. We built it because we believe that personal productivity increases when you give people the choice to work from wherever is most convenient. That’s not just about working from home instead of going into the office. That’s about making it possible for people to collaborate who don’t have the option to be in the same office together. As a company with offices on two continents, separated by more than six thousand miles, you can see why we’d care about that.

But we also care a lot about making the physical workplace a location where you’ll be happy to spend time. A quick perusal of the posts below this one and you’ll find plenty of examples of how we extol the virtues of a company bistro, office Nerf wars, and communal beanbags, to name just a few of the many perks of Prezi employment. Because we know that spending facetime with the people you work with is an important part of overall job satisfaction, we take pains to make our offices appealing to our employees. You have to wonder if this isn’t the part of Yahoo!’s employee relations formula that may be broken.

Ultimately, we can’t really comment on what other companies may do, or instruct them based on our own beliefs.  The issue is more complex than that. All we know is what works for us here at Prezi.  And all I know is that I wrote this blog post from home and I liked it.