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U.S. Tech Companies Request Data on NSA Surveillance
Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo! Inc., and more than a dozen other tech companies have joined forces with civil liberties groups and investment firms in a push to uncloak U.S. government surveillance efforts, following leaks last month about National Security Agency data gathering.
In a letter [PDF] sent Thursday to President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials, the 64-member coalition wrote that the government should permit Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers to publicly report statistics about national security-related requests. The alliance, organized by the Washington-based nonprofit Center for Democracy & Technology, said details about the extent to which the government deploys its national security powers is important to U.S. citizens and international users of U.S.-based digital service providers as they try to assess the utilization of online surveillance.
"Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties and human rights," the coalition wrote. "We look forward to working with you to set a standard for transparency reporting that can serve as a positive example for governments across the globe."
The letter is the latest plea for greater transparency issued by major tech companies, which are trying to deflect concerns that the U.S. government can easily obtain their users' data. The Washington Post and Britain's Guardian newspaper published stories in June reporting that the government has far-reaching access into user information held by Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and other companies.
Since those revelations, major tech companies have released a flurry of statements saying that they don't readily share user data with U.S. authorities and are proponents of increased government transparency on data collecting.
Google and Microsoft also filed motions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last month in an effort to reveal aggregate information about the secretive orders for user data they may receive.
The letter on Thursday urges the government to let companies publicly disclose the number of data requests they receive under certain national security measures, including the Patriot Act's Section 215, the FISA Amendments Act's Section 702, and laws concerning national security letters. The companies also asked for permission to report the number of individuals, accounts, and devices that fall under the requests.
Yahoo! General Counsel Ron Bell wrote in a blog post on Thursday that granting the appeals in the letter would help the United States take the lead on accountability, transparency, civil liberties, and human rights in the technology space.
"Democracy demands accountability, and accountability requires transparency," he wrote.