They also said that what the NSA can and cannot do in its surveillance efforts should be clearly set out in the law, and be overseen by an independent body.
The open letter appeared as full page adverts in a number of major US newspapers on Monday, including the New York Times and Washington Post.
“This summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide,” the letter reads.
“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our Constitution.”
The reforms are the largest effort by major technology companies to limit the mass collection of data – including emails, telephone calls and other internet communications – by the US government.
Some of the technology companies involved in the campaign have seen a major backlash from privacy campaigners for their perceived role in enabling government spying.
All of the companies involved in this push have denied that accusation. Indeed, both Microsoft and Google have threatened to publish communications between themselves and the government, despite a gagging order, if it refuses to deal with the situation.
Several chief executives of the technology companies have backed the move, which is spelt out in more detail at reformgovernmentsurveillance.com. The list includes Google CEO Larry Page, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
“People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” wrote Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel on the site. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”
The companies have proposed five principles of any reform. They are:
- Limiting governments' authority to collect users' data
- Oversight and accountability
- Transparency about government demands
- Respecting the free flow of information
- Avoiding conflicts among governments