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By | Neil McAllister 18th November 2014 02:01

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A pressure group backed by some of the largest internet companies has urged the US Senate to pass the USA FREEDOM Act, which would curb some forms of online spying by the government.

Reform Government Surveillance (RGS) voiced its support for the proposed law in an open letter published to it Tumblr site on Sunday, which was signed by AOL, Apple, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo!

"We urge you to pass the bill, ‪which both protects national security and reaffirms America's commitment to the freedoms we all cherish," the letter states.

RGS emerged last December as a joint effort by several major tech companies, and it has grown its ranks since.

Although the group has carefully crafted its messaging to make "the rights of the individual" its central theme, its member companies are also worried that the pervasive threat of US government spying could hamper their efforts to grow their respective businesses, particularly in foreign markets (where most of the world's population lives).

The USA FREEDOM Act, meanwhile – a ludicrous acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring – was introduced in the Senate in July by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

In its present form, it would end the bulk collection of phone metadata, reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), and loosen restrictions that bar companies from talking publicly about so-called National Security Letters that order them to disclose their customers' data.

In addition to RGS, the bill has won the support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, although the group has expressed concern that legislators may try to weaken its language before passing it.

That's if they pass it at all. Although the USA FREEDOM Act was cosponsored by Senators from both sides of the political aisle, Democrats and Republicans haven't had much luck achieving consensus on it so far.

In its letter, RGS said the Senate should get a move on, because the USA FREEDOM Act doesn't address all of the group's concerns and more reforms are necessary.

"Such reforms include: preventing government access to data without proper legal process; assuring that providers are not required to locate infrastructure within a country's border; promoting the free flow of data across borders; and avoiding conflicts among nations through robust, principled, and transparent frameworks that govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions," the letter states.

The Senate is due to vote on the USA FREEDOM Act on Tuesday, in a process that will include debates on amendments to the bill. ®

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