Google, Yahoo report US government information request figures

Companies including Google and Yahoo reveal the extent to which they share thousands of customers' information with US government

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 11:09am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 4:16am

Freed by a recent legal deal with government lawyers, major technology firms released new data on how often they are ordered to turn over customer information for secret national security investigations - figures that show that the government collected data on thousands of Americans.

The publications disclosed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr on Monday provided expanded details, and some vented criticism about the government's handling of customers' internet data . The figures from 2012 and 2013 showed that companies were compelled by the government to provide information on as many as 10,000 customer accounts in a six-month period. Yahoo complied with government requests for information on more than 40,000 accounts in this period.

The companies earlier provided limited information about government requests for data, but a new agreement reached last week with the Obama administration allowed the firms to provide a broadened, though still circumscribed, set of figures to the public.

Seeking to reassure customers, the firms stressed that only small numbers of their users were targeted by authorities. Still, even those small numbers showed that thousands of Americans were affected by the government requests approved by judges of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In a company blog post, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith scolded the US and allied governments for failing to renounce the reported mass interception of internet data carried by communications cables.

"Despite the president's reform efforts and our ability to publish more information, there has not yet been any public commitment by either the US or other governments to renounce the attempted hacking of internet companies," Smith said.

The new figures were released just a week after major technology firms announced a legal agreement with the Justice Department. But lawyers and executives for the companies openly vented their discomfort with the government's continuing insistence that they could only provide broad ranges instead of the actual numbers of government requests.

The companies said they would press for narrower data ranges offering more details.

A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the companies' releases and comments.

Google and all the other companies denied that they gave any government unfettered access to their users' info.

The companies can only reveal how many total requests they receive every six months, with number groupings of 1,000.

All the companies received Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requests that sought things such as locations of where people made an internet connection.

Google described the disclosure as a positive step while promising to keep fighting for the right to provide more precise numbers about the FISA requests and specifics about the data being sought.