Tech Co. Pressure FISA Court to Release More Detailed Reports on Govt Data Requests

Google: The levels of secrecy built up around national security requests undermine the basic freedoms that are the heart of a democratic society

Julie Wilson
September 9, 2013

Facebook, Google and Yahoo have a formed a unique alliance and are asking for permission to disclose more details about secret information requests from the government.

Currently, tech firms are prohibited from revealing exactly how many times they’ve been ordered to hand over private consumer data to the government.

All three companies filed separate motions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, in an attempt to “address growing public concern and regain the trust of users,” reported the LA Times.

Google’s public policy blog reveals the tech company filed an amended petition Monday to FISA requesting they be “allowed to publish detailed statistics about the types (if any) of national security requests” they receive under FISA. “Given the important public policy issues at stake, we have also asked the court to hold its hearing in open rather than behind closed doors. It’s time for more transparency.”

Infowars reported a few weeks ago Facebook succumbed to providing information on 38,000 Facebook users in 74 different countries during the first half of this year. Of course these numbers are approximations because of FISA restrictions.

Although reports confirmed tech companies have been paid millions to participate in the NSA spy program PRISM, they still appear to be trying to be upfront as possible with their customers regarding government data requests.

Last week Yahoo released its first transparency report exposing 12,444 user data requests by the government so far this year. In the report, Yahoo admits to only rejecting 2 percent of federal government requests.

Yahoo unsuccessfully challenged FISA in 2008 citing the restrictions as “unconstitutional,” but last July a judge ruled the company had a right to request they be able to share more information regarding government data requests.

“We strenuously disagree with the government’s position and will continue to advocate for greater transparency regarding requests made under national security authorities,” said Yahoo.

According to Google’s public policy blog, “The levels of secrecy that have built up around national security requests undermine the basic freedoms that are at the heart of a democratic society.”

Facebook has particularly been under scrutiny for its new “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” policy which states users’ profile data including their profile picture, name and personal information “could show up as part of a Facebook ad their friends may see on the site,” according to a report by Mashable.

Apparently the detailed explanation is new but the policy is not.

More controversy surrounded the social media giant when they announced the update of the “Tag Suggest” feature, which would allow facial recognition technology “to speed up the process of ‘tagging’ friends and acquaintances who appear in photos posed on the network,” reported Reuters.

Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan assured users who are uncomfortable with the new feature would be able to “opt out” of the Tag Suggest feature altogether. This would prohibit the users’ profile photo from being added to the facial recognition database.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all released reports exposing thousands of requests from government officials during the second half of 2012. According to Fox News, Facebook answered appropriately 10,000 government requests during the second half of 2012, affecting the accounts of roughly 20,000 people.

Yahoo plans to release a transparency report every six months. Other tech giants are expected to follow.

This article was posted: Monday, September 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm

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