US tech giants, advocacy groups hail deal on disclosing spy requests data

Government allows firms to disclose number of security requests for information they receive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 10:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 10:36pm


Technology companies and privacy advocates are praising a US government compromise that will allow the internet's leading companies to disclose more information about how often they are ordered to turn over customer information in national security investigations.

The US Justice Department on Monday reached agreements with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn that would allow them to disclose data on national security orders the companies have received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

While the compromise does not allow firms to disclose everything they wish, and allows them to disclose more than the government originally wanted them to, both sides seemed satisfied with the agreement filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has the final say.

"We believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive," the companies said in a joint statement.

"While this is a very positive step, we'll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps."

Federal officials also seemed pleased with the agreement, which follows discussions about government spying after leaks about National Security Agency surveillance by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"Permitting disclosure of this aggregate data addresses an important area of concern to communications providers and the public," Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a joint statement.

Some of those companies signing the agreement were among several internet businesses identified as giving the NSA access to customer data under the program known as Prism.

The companies had said they wanted to make the disclosures to calm public speculation about the scope of their co-operation with the government and to show that only a tiny fraction of their customers' accounts have been subject to legal orders.

Under the compromise, the companies will have to delay releasing the number of national security orders by six months.

They also had to promise that if they come up with new technology or new forms of communication, they are not able to reveal that the government can tap into that new technology for two years.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a brief supporting the technology firms in their bid to disclose more information, said the deal "partially" lifted an information gag on the companies, and described it as "a victory for transparency".