Tech industry wants surveillance focus after ‘Big Data’ report

The tech industry is calling on the Obama administration to focus on limiting government access to online data after a White House report focused on commercial users of consumer data.

Tech companies and trade groups applauded the White House’s “Big Data” report — which was released Thursday and largely focused on how companies collect and use large amounts of consumer data — but encouraged President Obama to focus on reforming national security and law enforcement surveillance.

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Specifically, members of the tech industry focused on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a 1986 law that allows law enforcement officials to access stored emails without a warrant.

Thursday’s White House report — written by Obama advisor John Podesta and other administration officials — called for an update to the law to afford electronic communications the same privacy protections as physical communications, such as letters, which require a warrant to access.

While both the House and Senate have ECPA reform bills with bipartisan support, the efforts to update the law have been stalled by civil agencies’ concerns.

The tech industry continued its calls Thursday to move forward with ECPA reform.

‘Now that the Administration has issued its report, it should turn its attention to the most pressing privacy priorities facing American consumers by working to adopt ECPA reform with no exceptions and to reform the government’s surveillance laws and practices,” Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman said in a statement.

Beckerman’s group includes Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Amazon.

Ed Black, CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, also called for quick action on ECPA reform.

“ECPA reform is ready for action now,” he said in a statement, asking Congress to ensure “that the standard of protection for online content, such as email in the cloud, is consistent with that afforded in the physical world.”

Black’s trade group includes Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and FourSquare.

Black also called on the administration to reform the government’s national security surveillance programs, many of which first came to light after leaks from former government contractor Edward Snowden last year.

“Reforming government surveillance practices are essential to restore trust in the sanctity of Internet communications,” Black said.

He slammed the administration for calling for a review of commercial uses of data as a response to the backlash over government surveillance.

“Frankly, channeling public outrage over NSA overreach into the debate around commercial privacy regulation is irresponsible,” Black said. 

“We would have hoped executive branch officials would be trying to regain some of the credibility and trust they have lost in the last year, and not resort to disingenuous efforts to distract and muddle the issues for the public.”

Mozilla’s Global Privacy and Public Policy Lead Alex Fowler said the company “strongly urge[s] the Obama administration to stay focused on surveillance reform to help restore trust on the Internet.”