Having been bashed for months about how the National Security Agency and who knows what other three-letter agencies are spying on Internet users through their networks and technology, eight big tech players on Monday launched a counteroffensive.

They want reform in the U.S. and elsewhere.

As the Edward Snowden disclosures continue about the NSA and other agencies’ efforts such as the super-secret British GCHQ to snoop, it’s time for every other major technology and communications firm to get onboard.

This includes AT&T, about which The Associated Press reported this news on Friday:

“AT&T, under fire for ongoing revelations that it shares and sells customers’ communications records to the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence offices, says it isn’t required to disclose to shareholders what it does with customers’ data.

“In a letter sent Thursday to the Securities and Exchange Commission, AT&T said it protects customer information and complies with government requests for records ‘only to the extent required by law.'”

If you are an AT&T customer and are the least bit concerned about your privacy, then you should be alarmed.

AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, other communications providers as well tech firms such as BlackBerry, IBM, Lenovo, Red Hat, Oracle Tekelec, SAS and Cisco need to join Google, Facebook and the six other firms who came forward Monday in calling for changes in US, other governments’ spying on Internet and telecommunications users. If companies handle sensitive data, they need to be worried about this hacking plague – and do something about it.

New disclosures such as a report about spying on virtual worlds and online gamers makes this issue even more crucial to our use of the Internet today and in the future.

The Open Technology Institute  in Washington praised the reform initiative. 

“We are incredibly pleased to see these companies’ stepping up to support broad surveillance reforms, including an end to bulk data collection,” said Kevin Bankston, the policy director of New America’s Open Technology Institute. “We’ve always hoped that our alliance with the Internet companies to push for transparency around the NSA’s surveillance would eventually lead to a broader, shared reform agenda, and today’s statement represents an obvious turning point. The Internet industry has now clearly set its sights beyond just transparency and is ready to fight with us for substantive reforms to the law.”

“Open Letter”

In “an open letter to Washington,” the big eight (Google, Facebook, Apple, LinkedIn, Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL) declared the following:

“Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,

“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. 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. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.

“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.

“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 Principles”

At the same time the firms unveiled a website that declared its five “Principles” for reform:

1. Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information

Governments should codify sensible limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data that balance their need for the data in limited circumstances, users’ reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the Internet. In addition, governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications.

2. Oversight and Accountability

Intelligence agencies seeking to collect or compel the production of information should do so under a clear legal framework in which executive powers are subject to strong checks and balances. Reviewing courts should be independent and include an adversarial process, and governments should allow important rulings of law to be made public in a timely manner so that the courts are accountable to an informed citizenry.

3. Transparency About Government Demands

Transparency is essential to a debate over governments’ surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers. Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly.

4. Respecting the Free Flow of Information

The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust 21st century global economy. Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country. Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.

5. Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments

In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty — or “MLAT” — processes. Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict.

The website is available here.

What say you about all this snooping and spying?

Speak out.