Silicon Valley is joining national civil liberties groups and their busy activists to demand transparency from the National Security Agency (NSA). The tech powerhouses Apple and Facebook have been joined by competitors across the industry from Yahoo, Microsoft, Mozilla and Twitter who are tired of the government demanding user data from their systems without proper notice to the public.
Advisers of the tech companies each signed a letter to federal authorities, inquiring for the reason why the information was gleaned and demanded from their own databases. The NSA was accused of snooping after sending an order to the companies to provide direct, uninterrupted access to their services as part of the United States intelligence system called PRISM.
Curiously absent from the written push-back were telecommunications leaders AT&T and Verizon. The two companies have come under fire for allowing the government unfettered access to their databases without question. Apple and Facebook want to show their consumer base, by joining the civil liberties groups, they take matter with the orders of the federal authorities.
The letter created by the agencies demands the NSA allow the publishing of the national related requests and to list a “transparency report” on its surveillance practices, online or an accessible way for the public to retreive.
In addition, to the tech companies signing the form, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights advocacy group and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also signed the form. The basis of the letter is pretty clear,
“Basic information about how the government uses its various law enforcement-related investigative authorities has been published for years without any apparent disruption to criminal investigations. “We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government’s national security-related authorities,” it continues.
The support of the tech giants are fueling the fire for activist groups to take their fight public. Senior counsel, Kevin Bankston of the Center for Democracy and Technology stated, “People in the intelligence agencies often talk about how important it is to limit information to those with a ‘need to know’. Well, the American people need to know, and we need to know now.”
Legislation of the transparency is also a big request inside of the request form from the agencies, investment firms and activists groups. The letter was addressed to President Obama and this could spell trouble for the Commander in Chief, if a response is delayed too long.
The mid-term elections are quickly coming up within the next year, how the President responds with Congress and the House may just determine the loss and gain of some seats. Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Microsoft was strong-armed by the government to give access to systems like Outlook, SkyDrive and Skype. It is further reported that the NSA is really pushing Microsoft for uninterrupted access to intercept Skype calls, including listening in while the public remains unaware when the conversation is being recorded.
Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and dozens more activist groups and companies are looking to cease the invasive snoop into their customers information. Not at least without transparency and advising when each moment of access is noted by the government. Today’s letter reinforces, the companies are requesting permission to tell the public the number of requests they receive under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The public now sits and waits, but no longer patiently.