Silicon Valley to feds: Disclose your data requests

Posted at 8:36 PM, Jul 18, 2013

By Brandon Griggs


(CNN) — Silicon Valley, wary of being seen as accomplices in the National Security Agency’s unpopular data-surveillance program, has a message for the Obama administration.

Let us disclose your requests for information about our users.

Almost two dozen tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo, published a joint letter to the U.S. government Thursday, urging greater transparency around national security-related requests.

In the letter, the tech titans asked for authority to publicize the number of government requests received, the number of affected users or accounts, and the types of information (messages, subscriber info) being sought. They also urged the government to issue a regular “transparency report” providing the same information.

“This information … is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those (requests) … and to international users of US-based service providers who are concerned about the privacy and security of their communications,” the letter said.

The letter also asked Congress to pass legislation requiring comprehensive transparency reporting by the federal government and allowing companies to publish their own transparency reports without first seeking permission from government authorities.

“Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties and human rights,” it said.

“We look forward to working with you to set a standard for transparency reporting that can serve as a positive example for governments across the globe.”

The letter was addressed to President Obama, congressional leaders and top intelligence officials. It was also signed by some three dozen nonprofit groups and associations, from the ACLU to a handful of groups advocating open government.

Revelations about the NSA’s Prism program have stoked privacy fears about how the largest U.S. tech companies handle their vast databases of users’ information — including e-mails, online chats and other messages — and how much of that data they turn over to the government. Government officials have said they need access to digital communications to thwart potential terrorist attacks.

In the weeks since the revelations about the NSA snooping surfaced last month, the tech companies have been working to demonstrate their commitment to transparency. Many have written individual letters to the government seeking permission to publish statistics about national-security requests.

Thursday’s joint letter came two days after a broad coalition of groups sued the NSA, demanding a halt to its data-collection program.

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