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Tech firms call on US to introduce internet surveillance reforms over NSA revelations

Eight leading technologies companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google, have called on the United States to limit surveillance on citizens. It comes in the wake of the National Security Agency (NSA) spy revelations.

AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo called on Washington on Monday to set an example worldwide by reforming state-sponsored surveillance practices.

"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 firms wrote in an open letter addressed to President Barack Obama and the US Congress.

"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 change."

"We urge the US 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," the letter went on to say.

The appeal, which was carried in full-page ads in several newspapers including the New York Times, followed the release of documents leaked by former intelligence contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden. The documents revealed the extent of surveillance of Internet and phone data practiced by the US National Security Agency.

Firms set out five key demands

The leaders of the tech giants gave details of their proposal on the joint website Reform Government Surveillance.

They demand an end to the mass gathering of online data, urging the government instead to only target specific suspects. They also call for an increase in the oversight and accountabiliy of intelligence activities and for companies to be permitted to publicize how regularly governments seek user information and the reasons behind it.

Further demands relate to the need for the free flow of information online, including over international borders, and for governments to establish and international framework to govern data requests between countries.

The website alludes to concerns over a lack of trust on the part of users, which could prove damaging to business.

"People won't use technology they don't trust," Microsoft's Brad Smith said.

"Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."

Meanwhile Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said that revelations of government surveillance meant "it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world."

In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations earlier this year, the US president ordered a review of Washington's surveillance activities.

ccp/kms (AFP, dpa)