Tech giants hire lobby firm to fight NSA surveillance

Washington lobby firm Monument Policy Group landed a high-level coalition of tech firms that are fighting back against government surveillance policies.

The cluster of eight companies – which includes Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Google – is going under the moniker “Reform Government Surveillance.” AOL, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo are also a part of the effort.

Official help was brought in to manage the group of companies, which otherwise has no central leadership, according to a spokesman for one of the companies involved, who was unable to speak on behalf of his employer.

“Each of these companies has in-house lobbyists and bringing in an outside consultant helps the coalition use its resources more effectively,” he said.

Monument Policy Group already represents LinkedIn and Microsoft separately.

The registration form, which posted on the Senate’s website on Thursday, notes that the lobby shop has been working with the coalition since the beginning of January – a month after the companies announced the advocacy group.

In December, the group took out a national print advertisement, featuring a letter to President Obama and members of Congress that urged reforms to how governments around the world collect data.

“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. … It’s time for change,” the letter read.

“When [the eight companies] made the announcement [of the coalition], the strategy was to point out that all of these companies who compete head-to-head are aligned. It’s not often you see a letter that has all of these logos on it,” the corporate spokesman said. 

“[The mentality was], we can make a powerful statement if we speak with one voice. If we come out and do this, it’ll be noticed.”

And it worked. 

Two weeks after the ad appeared, and the coalition debuted, executives from some of the largest technology companies met with Obama at the White House. 

Many of them had been on the defensive, following leaks by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden that detailed how the government uses Internet and computer companies to snoop on users.

As a result, lobbying in the tech community has gone up – companies are spending more than in previous years and leveraging muscle from trade associations. Even newer tech players – including Yelp and Uber – have signed up with lobbyists in the last six months.

Disclosure forms only reveal that Monument Policy Group will be working on issues related to “surveillance, law enforcement and technology issues,” but gives no technical details or whom the firm will be contacting. More information will be available in first quarter disclosures, due out in April.