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We’ve been waiting for this for quite some time: eight of Silicon Valley’s tech giants have finally decided to stand up to the U.S. government’s spying programs. AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo have collectively launched a website and published an “open letter to Washington,” urging the government to “make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”

Granted, this should only be considered a very small step in the right direction—a PR exercise, even—but it is a good first step.

On the website, the tech companies laid out five principles regarding improved oversight, increased transparency, limiting the government’s authority to collect personal data, respecting data traffic between nations, and cooperation between governments to avoid conflicts across jurisdictions.

I think the most important phrase in the letter is “proportionate to the risks.”

That’s the root of the problem. Is this all worth it? Does the ongoing threat of terrorism, which kills one in 20 million Americans, justify the widespread intrusion of personal privacy? Does the horror of 9/11, which was an outlier event, warrant total surveillance?

These are complicated but necessary questions. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons to achieve a happy medium.

If these companies can compel the government to devise a response to the threat of terrorism that is more “proportionate to the risks” than the current situation, they will be doing the world a favor.

But I think it’s also important to question the motives of the companies in question.

Mark McAndrew makes an interesting point.

Where the hell was this website before Edward Snowden’s disclosures? Why are these companies becoming activists now, when we know this surveillance has been going on for years?

If those CEOs really gave a shit about protecting users’ privacy, they would’ve done something about it long before now. Do you think they would’ve stood up against the NSA if Snowden had kept his mouth shut? Of course not.

It looks like a PR exercise to me, devised just so they can say that they tried.

Either way, I hope Silicon Valley stays persistent. If those eight companies can become enough of a pain in the ass, change will eventually happen.