Some of the biggest names in technology, like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, have just released a transparency report into the National Security Agency’s (NSA) data requests. Other tech giants like Yahoo and LinkedIn have also joined the group under new U.S. government rules that allow each company to report on how many requests each company received from the NSA for member data, the percentage each company responds to, and the number of accounts impacted.
Within the last half of last year, Facebook only reported a “small fraction” of a single percent of their users were targeted by the government agency data requests. The social media giant also said that the same “small fraction” of one percent was true for the six months of 2013.
During the same first six months of 2013 the social network for professionals, LinkedIn, said they received somewhere between 0 and 249 NSA-related data requests.
Microsoft’s general counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs, Brad Smith, said that the United States government now allows companies to disclose the government request information as long as it’s published in “bands of a thousand. However the data can only be released six months after the reporting period occurs.
The transparency report from Microsoft stated that the tech company received “fewer than 1,000” orders for user data that was related to the disclosure of their customer’s content which affected between 15,000 and 15,999 user accounts. Microsoft also made it clear that this didn’t necessarily mean that more than 15,000 accounts were covered by the government’s requests. The Redmond-based company said that in addition they received fewer than 1,000 requests for non-content related data which affected less than 1,000 accounts. When referring to National Security Letters, they again received fewer than 1,000 requests which covered less than 1,000 accounts.
The tech giant Yahoo also updated their transparency report that they launched last year. Yahoo stated that they received requests for “less than one one-hundredth of one percent” of the company’s worldwide user base for the same period.
Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other tech companies now regularly release transparency reports to help their customer’s gain trust in them since news of the NSA’s data requests was first exposed to the media by the NSA contractor, Edward Snowden. Snowden exposed the NSA’s surveillance program called “Prism” which cause all the tech companies to immediately go on the defensive and had them all scrambling to deny accusations of government coöperation. Some tech companies even took the government to court in order to be able to release the request data. All company requests for the release of the information were denied.
The information that was once denied by the government was over-turned last week when President Obama’s administration was seeking to reform the way the U.S. government conducts their surveillance across the globe. Any remaining lawsuits from tech companies against the government have since been dropped. The stipulation is that the tech companies are still prohibited from disclosing information about the government’s requests for a period of two years.
Google also release data stating that they too only received less than 1,000 requests from the NSA or content requests from the government in six-month periods spanning from the first part of 2009 to mid-2013. However, the number of requests for content for the period affected a slightly larger number of user accounts. In 2009 the requests impacted between 5,000 and 6,998 users/accounts, in 2010 between 8,000 and 9,998, in 2011 between 16,000 and 17,998, in 2012 between 20,000 and 21,998, with the first 6 months of last year seeing between 9,000 and 9,999 users/accounts affected by the government requests.
Since Edward Snowden revealed Prism to the world, some tech companies such as Microsoft and Google have added in some new protocols and features to protect their user data from the NSA and any other government agency data requests. Facebook and other tech companies will continue to try to gain the confidence of their users by releasing these transparency reports whenever the government allows them to.
By Brent Matsalla