Tech firms strike major deal with US gov to disclose data request figures
27th Jan 2014 | 23:14
Some big Silicon Valley names are in on it
Update: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and LinkedIn have issued the following statement announcing that they have withdrawn their lawsuits challenging the government's gag order against FISA requests:
"We filed our lawsuits because we believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive. We're pleased the Department of Justice has agreed that we and other providers can disclose this information. While this is a very positive step, we'll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed."
Original story continues below…
The US Department of Justice has announced a deal with tech firms that will allow companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple to reveal previously secret information about the numbers of requests for data they receive.
The numbers these companies will now be able to disclose include requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as well as national security letters they receive in a year.
It's a significant step forward towards greater transparency post-NSA revelations, though as with any brokerage, a few concessions were made.
The requests will need to be revealed in groups of 250 or 1,000, and there will be a two-year window for companies receiving orders for the first time and companies that have receives new types of requests. During that window, the orders cannot be disclosed.
Despite those restrictions - apparently designed to give the government and law enforcement time to act on information before requests are revealed - the changes are an improvement over the current set-up.
In an amusing reversal of the "Thanks Obama" meme, which humorously blames the president for things he has nothing to do with, it seems his plan for NSA reform actually is responsible for the deal. Or at least, that's how US Attorney Eric Holder tells it.
The DOJ document was served to Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and LinkedIn via email. But it seems this applies to all tech companies who receive government data requests, not just those named.
Google has been fighting the FISA gag order since as early as summer 2013, and late last year it said that government requests related to user information had doubled in three years.
Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft also joined in on the fight in 2013.
Shut it down
Apple has responded to this announcement already, issuing a document titled "Update on National Security and Law Enforcement Orders" in which it discloses that it has received fewer than 250 government requests for user data related to fewer than 250 user accounts.
He said some of these programs have already been shut down, and any remaining ones may be subject to transparency reports in the future.
Via The Verge