Facebook, Google and Yahoo are together putting increased pressure on the government to allow the companies to distinctly identify the number of national security related requests for user data separately from other law enforcement requests.
From the LA Times:
Technology giants Facebook, Google and Yahoo presented a rare united front in filing separate motions asking to publicly disclose more details about secret national intelligence requests they receive under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
They made the motions Monday in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The companies are seeking permission to reveal the number and nature of the national intelligence requests to address growing public concern and regain the trust of users.
Facebook’s general counsel posted on the social networking site today that the government’s initial efforts to work with the companies in releasing information about government requests for user data has not gone far enough.
In June, as a result of discussions with the U.S. government, we and a number of other companies were permitted to release, within a range, the total number of law enforcement requests for user data we received in a given period, including not just criminal matters, but also all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters). That was an important step. It permitted us to release information that directly refuted many of the outlandish and false media reports circulating at the time. And it allowed us to make clear that a vanishingly small number of people who use Facebook – a tiny fraction of one percent – were the subject of any kind of U.S. government request in the past year.
But that one step is not enough. The actions and statements of the U.S. government have not adequately addressed the concerns of people around the world about whether their information is safe and secure with Internet companies. We believe there is more information that the public deserves to know, and that would help foster an informed debate about whether government security programs adequately balance privacy interests when attempting to keep the public safe. In particular, although we have been permitted to disclose a range of the total number of requests we have received and the number of users associated with those requests, we have not been permitted to specify even approximately how many of those requests may be national security-related, nor have we been permitted to provide information identifying the number of those requests that seek the content of users’ accounts.
Facebook’s statement indicated that further dialogue with the US government on this matter is “unlikely to result in more progress.”
Microsoft also recently announced that it would move forward with a lawsuit to win the right to publish the same type of data for its company, after it revealed that negotiations with the government had failed.
Google and Facebook previously published statistics that show the number of government requests for user data, but the companies expressed concern that they were not permitted to disclose the national security related requests separately from the overall numbers.
And Yahoo published its first transparency report Friday on government related data requests, but was also held to the same restrictions.
The inability to report national security related data requests distinctly from the total numbers has continued to leave a cloud hanging over internet companies in the wake of reporting about the NSA’s PRISM program after leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.