Facebook and Microsoft had revealed that they get thousands of request for user data from many government agencies of the United States, around 10 thousand request targeting about 19 thousand accounts during the last months of 2012, Facebook representatives said.
“Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel, said in a statement Friday that Facebook is only allowed to talk about total numbers and must give no specifics. But he said the permission it has received is still unprecedented, and the company was lobbying to reveal more.”
“These requests run the gamut, from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat,” Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel, said in a post Friday night.
“With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of 1% of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of U.S. state, local, or federal U.S. government requests.”
“I only care when they are subpoenaed under oath,” Ray Wang, chief executive of Constellation Research, a technology research organization, tweeted Thursday. “For now, all lies.”
Facebook and Google dominant positions on the web and social media has made them the focus of attention in the unfolding scandal cause by the clandestine data gathering program PRISM run by the US National Security Agency.
“We hadn’t even heard of PRISM before yesterday,” Zuckerberg wrote on his status update, referring to the NSA secret program and echoing the phrasing found in a blog post by Page.
“Meaning they called it something else,” Eva Galperin, an analyst with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, speculated of those denials.
“The primary stumbling block is there may have been a gag order which prevented them from saying anything,” she told Market Watch. “If you look very carefully at their denials, these were carefully worded denials.”
Google sent a letter to the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation asking to be permitted to disclose more information on government data requests and they mention a law called FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), which gives government broad powers to access private information, including those collected by tech companies.
Google denies that gives the government “unfettered access” to its network, the chief legal officer, David Drummond, argued that “government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.” He added: “Google has nothing to hide.”
“We continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues,” John Frank, Microsoft’s vice president and deputy general counsel said in a statement.
“We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests,” a statement from Google said. “We already publish criminal requests separately from National Security Letters. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.”
Facebook said that they scrutinizes each request and works aggressively to protect user’s data. “We frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested,” Ullyot said.” And we respond only as required by law.”,
Facebook, Google and Microsoft Corp. have been pressuring the Obama administration to loosen their legal gag on government surveillance orders.
Written by Edgar Soto