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Web Leaders Call for Online Spying Reform (Update 1)

Updated from 10:13 a.m. to include additional information in the last paragraph.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A coalition of Internet heavy hitters is asking governments around the world to reconsider their worldwide surveillance programs.

Calling the group Reform Government Surveillance, AOL (AOL), Facebook (FB), Google (GOOG), LinkedIn (LNKD), Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo! (YHOO) say its time for the world's governments to address laws and practice regulating what individuals can and will do online.

"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 group said in a statement.

The group, with the additional weight of Apple (AAPL) and Twitter (TWTR), sent an open letter to President Obama and Congress asking them to consider the possibility of restricting government spying, especially considering what is now known about the work of the National Security Agency or NSA:

"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 ... 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," the Internet companies said.

The coalition is requesting all governments follow five guiding principles:

  • Limiting governments' authority to collect users' information
  • Oversight and accountability
  • Transparency about government demands for information
  • Respecting the free flow of information
  • Avoiding conflicts among governments.
Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and executive vice president, summed up the group's effort, "People won't use technology they don't trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."

The majority of revelations concerning NSA spying have come from the release of top-secret documents that were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. After being charged with espionage by the U.S. government, Snowden was granted asylum in Russia.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been leading the call for reform. The group stated that with the help of cell phone carriers the U.S. government "has engaged in a massive illegal dragnet surveillance of domestic communications and communications records of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001."

Today, there have been new reports of NSA and its British equivalent GCHC spying on players of online computer games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life. The agencies were said to be searching for terrorists blending-in with other gamers. An 82-page document describing the operation was printed on New York Times stressed spy organizations worried that online video battles using virtual weapons could be used as recruiting and training tools for terrorist groups.

-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

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