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Originally published December 16, 2013 at 4:38 PM | Page modified December 17, 2013 at 5:01 PM

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Editorial: More NSA revelations come to light; cut down Big Brother

Eight of the world’s biggest technology companies are urging the U.S. government to reform the National Security Agency's surveillance tactics. A federal judge has joined the chorus. Congress ought to establish basic checks and balances.

Seattle Times Editorial

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ENOUGH snooping.

The onslaught of news stories about the National Security Agency’s gathering of mass data on Americans’ online habits and phone records reveals a startling erosion of privacy rights. But there is more. British and American spies have posed as fantasy characters in popular virtual games such as “World of Warcraft” and “Second Life,” according to news reports.

The agency claims it is collecting useful intelligence. Non-terrorist individuals supposedly have nothing to fear — nothing except a government that uses the guise of protecting public safety to justify unchecked Orwellian behavior.

Some congressional members talk about curbing a growing perception that government is channeling Big Brother. President Obama is arguably the most tech-savvy politician in modern history. Yet public outrage from innocent Americans has not sparked a strong enough response from either the legislative or executive branches of government.

A federal judge issued a scathing opinion Monday warning White House and Department of Justice officials that the NSA’s collection of phone records may violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. The ruling does not order the government to stop that specific practice, but it’s a hint of what’s to come on the legal battlefield. More importantly, it’s a sign the courts will protect privacy in the digital age.

Enter the leaders of eight of the world’s most powerful tech companies, who fear burgeoning distrust could turn people away from Internet communication and cost them billions of dollars.

Last week a robust coalition of companies — Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Google, Yahoo, AOL, LinkedIn and Twitter — set aside their business rivalries and banded together to demand that Congress and Obama reform a surveillance system run amok.

“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual,” the group wrote in an open letter to the White House. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish.”

That message underscores what critics and citizens have been asking for, which is a way to balance security with reforms “that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight,” the letter states.

Congress should move forward with the USA Freedom Act, a measure that would limit bulk collection of communication records, reform court reviews, increase transparency and define congressional oversight.

So far, U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, and Rick Larsen, D-Everett, are among the bipartisan bill’s long list of co-sponsors.

Even a divided Congress should be able to work together to cut Big Brother down a notch or two.

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