In light of the controversial surveillance program, known as Prism, which made headlines this week, major US technology companies want the government’s permission to disclose details of security requests they receive from administration officials on user data.
In a series of leaks in the past few weeks, Edward Snowden, an ex-CIA employee, maintained that government administration officials had direct access to a number of servers including Microsoft, Google, and Facebook in a secret US surveillance program named Prism.
Amid speculation that this type of secret surveillance may make the public suspicious and shake public confidence, nine major US firms including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have asked authorities to give them permission to disclose how many national security letters (NSL) they receive to hand over user data under the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa). An NSL is used by government agencies such as the FBI and NSA to demand access to data from companies. Fisa requests come with gag orders, which means that these companies are forbidden by law to disclose that they are recipients of such letters.
“Permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and scope of national security requests, including Fisa orders, would help the community understand and debate these important issues,” Microsoft officials said in an emailed statement to reporters. Alex Macgillivray, Twitter attorney tweeted, “We’d like more NSL transparency and Twitter supports efforts to make that happen.”
“Transparency reports” are, in fact, published by Google, Microsoft, and Twitter which describe how many government requests they receive for user data in various countries. However, these reports for the US do not include Fisa requests or other NSL orders.
Microsoft said: “Our recent report went as far as we legally could and the government should take action to allow companies to provide additional transparency.”
Facebook so far has not published a transparency report. Ted Ullyot, general counsel for Facebook said in a statement, that Facebook “would welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook around the world a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond.
“We urge the United States government to help make that possible by allowing companies to include information about the size and scope of national security requests we receive, and look forward to publishing a report that includes that information.”
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook, described media reports about the US surveillance Prism program as “outrageous.”
Google, in a letter to the US attorney general, Eric Holder, said allegations that the US government had “unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue”. But, the letter also expressed concern that the fact that Google was not allowed to disclose requests made for information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) “fuels that speculation”.
Major technology companies in the US have spent days denying that they have knowingly participated in the NSA surveillance program Prism.
Google said the company has given data to the government “only in accordance with the law.” Google stated that no “back door” to its server had been set up, stating that the company had never heard of Prism until approached by reporters.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Obama administration’s collection of data from Verizon customers under the surveillance program, Prism
By Perviz Walji