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Leading tech companies call for NSA restraints

– Mounting revelations about the extent of NSA surveillance have alarmed technology leaders in recent days, driving a renewed push for significant legislative action from an industry that long tried to stay above the fray in Washington.

After months of merely calling for the government to be more transparent about its surveillance requests, tech industry leaders have begun demanding substantive new restraints on how the National Security Agency collects and uses the vast quantities of information it scoops up around the globe, much of it from the data streams of U.S. companies.

Six leading technology companies – Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL – sent a letter to Senate leaders Thursday reflecting the sharpening industry strategy, praising the sponsors of a bill that would end the bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans and create a privacy advocate to represent the interests of civil liberties within the secretive court that oversees the NSA.

“Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs,” the letter said.

National security officials have rejected criticism of the NSA’s collection of communications, particularly any suggestion that the agency had scooped up data under presidential authority to avoid the greater oversight required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Some scholars say that the NSA’s collection of data from Google, Yahoo and their users might violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on illegal search and seizure, even if it happens in foreign countries.

But some privacy activists said technology companies share at least some of the blame for the extent of the government surveillance program because they collect the detailed user data coveted by the NSA.

Technology companies also have lobbied against laws that would limit data collection in Europe and elsewhere.

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