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Silicon Valley's reaction to Obama's NSA reforms: Not enough

National GovernmentNational Security AgencyPoliticsBarack ObamaScienceU.S. Congress

SAN FRANCISCO -- Technology companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo said the reforms to the National Security Agency surveillance that President Obama proposed in his speech Friday “represent positive progress” but did not go far enough to curb the vast program.

"The commitments outlined by President Obama represent positive progress on key issues including transparency from the government and in what companies will be allowed to disclose, extending privacy protections to non-US citizens, and FISA court reform,” the coalition of tech companies said in a statement. “Crucial details remain to be addressed on these issues, and additional steps are needed on other important issues, so we’ll continue to work with the Administration and Congress to keep the momentum going and advocate for reforms consistent with the principles we outlined in December."

No industry has more at stake in the NSA reforms than high-tech. Damaging disclosures about NSA spying have undermined the trust of users especially overseas, potentially costing high-tech companies billions of dollars.

Silicon Valley companies have banded together to call for greater transparency when courts order them to give up users’ data and stronger limits on what data the government can collect.

One tech company said Obama acknowledged the need to provide privacy protections to people outside of the U.S. whose information is inadvertently collected, but was not specific enough about the extent of those protections.

Alex Fowler, head of public policy for Mozilla, the nonprofit that created the Firefox browser, said Friday that he has even greater concerns. He warned that “expansive government surveillance practices have severely damaged the health of the open Internet.”

“Overall, the strategy seems to be to leave current intelligence processes largely intact and improve oversight to a degree,” Fowler said. “We'd hoped for, and the Internet deserves, more. Without a meaningful change of course, the Internet will continue on its path toward a world of balkanization and distrust, a grave departure from its origins of openness and opportunity.”

Fowler said high-tech companies need legislative reforms that put an end to the practice of collecting and decrypting data held by the companies.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal director Cindy Cohn said it’s now up to the courts, Congress and the public “to ensure that real reform happens.”

Her organization is calling for the halt of “bulk surveillance.”

“Other necessary reforms include requiring prior judicial review of national security letters and ensuring the security and encryption of our digital tools, but the President's speech made no mention of these,” Cohn said.

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