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Tech companies call for global government surveillance reform

Eight of the world's largest tech companies have joined forces to demand wide-spread reforms to US government surveillance.

In the most significant response yet to the spying revelations from Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency (NSA) contract worker, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, AOL and Yahoo have today published an open letter to Washington. In it they refer to the "urgent need" for the president and members of Congress to enact reforms to government surveillance practices worldwide.

"We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens," the letter reads, "(But) the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour 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 a 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 eight companies have united to form an alliance called Reform Government Surveillance, which states five principle aims on its website. These include limiting the government's authority to collect users' information, respecting the free flow of information, avoiding conflicts among governments, and being transparent and accountable for the actions of intelligence agencies.

"Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information," said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. "The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right."

Google CEO Larry Page said: "The security of users' data is critical, which is why we've invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information. This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It's time for reform and we urge the US government to lead the way."

Last week, President Barack Obama defended NSA surveillance following the latest revelations that the agency is reportedly gathering five billion mobile phone records each day. However, he also announced that he would be proposing reforms that can "give people more confidence".