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Our Opinion: Will privacy rise from the grave?

“You have zero privacy anyway — get over it.” — Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, 1999

How times change. Stung in the pocketbook, the big technology companies have suddenly become privacy advocates — at least when it comes to the government collecting information.

Eight major technology companies have banded together to call for tighter controls on government surveillance, issuing an open letter recently to President Barack Obama pushing for reforms in the way the U.S. spies on people.

The companies include Google, Facebook and Twitter.

“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,” the letter said. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

The change of heart may strike some as ironic, given that Internet companies are among the most enthusiastic in gathering every keystroke of information on their users — including facial recognition and fingerprint identification.

But the change in large part is due to Edward Snowden and the series of bombshells the former National Security Agency contractor has been dropping since he went public with the scope of NSA spying on Americans and others worldwide.

Company leaders signed off on the campaign personally.

“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, the CEO of Facebook. “The U.S. government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right.”

Marissa Meyer, the chief executive at Yahoo, said the disclosures had “shaken the trust of our users.”

The letter was signed by AOL Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Google Inc., LinkedIn Corp., Microsoft Corp., Twitter Inc. and Yahoo! Inc.

Intelligence officials, for their part, have argued that NSA’s techniques have foiled terror attacks, and say they don’t routinely monitor the content of conversations or messages by American citizens.

Snowden disagreed, saying analysts essentially do whatever they please.

We agree with the technology giants that the massive government spying programs need to be reined-in, hard.

But the technology companies themselves also need to be reined in, and not too lightly. They also collect vast amounts of information on everyone who visits their sites — where do you think the government gets all that data from? It’s cell phone calls and website visits.

It’s amazing that neither major political party is championing new laws to secure privacy rights.

And it’s somewhat disheartening that Americans aren’t demanding action: The fact that the federal government is collecting vast amounts of information on its citizens must have the founding fathers turning over in their graves.

We need to demand that the massive surveillance systems be torn down.

If there are terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, so be it. At least we won’t be making it easy for a totalitarian ruler to take over the country.

Benjamin Franklin, who knew a bit about taking risks, said it best:  “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

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