Trade groups representing Apple, Google, others lobby Senate to limit NSA spying

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Members of various Internet and technology trade groups are pushing the U.S. Senate to impose limitations on spying programs instituted by the National Security Agency, citing privacy concerns and lost business.

Among those lobbying to pass legislation that would serve to curb NSA spying and make government requests for data more transparent is the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which represents Apple, Google and Microsoft, reports Bloomberg.

In a letter addressed to upcoming majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and sent to all senators (PDF link), CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro said bulk data collection techniques employed by the NSA has cost the tech industry "millions of dollars" in lucrative foreign government contracts. He added that certain countries no longer allow data to flow freely across borders due to the snooping initiative.

"American technology companies have been hurt by reaction to the revelation of the U.S. government's bulk data collection," Shapiro writes. "Many companies have lost business, or face laws designed to restrict data flows, due to foreign governments' fear that the U.S. government can reach company-managed data at will."

At issue is Senate bill, S. 2685 — also known as the USA FREEDOM Act — a piece of legislation that would not only end a key NSA program that harvests customer data from millions of users within the U.S., but also allow companies more leeway to report government requests for data. Instead of collecting bulk data, the NSA would be required to obtain proper authority through judicial channels, then seek phone record from individual carriers. Under the proposed legislation, furnished data would be devoid of phone call content, positioning data and other carrier information.

The bill is supported by CEA, the Information Technology Industry Council and The Internet Association.

For its part, Apple has actively worked to bring to consumers as much information as possible regarding government requests for customer data, and in 2013 published its first public report detailing those requests. Earlier this year, CEO Tim Cook said he would "absolutely" press Congress to allow companies more leeway clarity on the issue.

The efforts come on the verge of a new congressional session starting in January that will see Republicans take over as the majority. Many Republicans support government surveillance programs, giving trade groups little time to push through meaningful legislation under a Democratic Congress.

The Senate will vote on the USA FREEDOM Act on Nov. 18.