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Last updated: June 11, 2013 10:29 pm
Google and Facebook have asked the US government to ease a gag order that prohibits the internet companies from revealing the number of national security requests they receive for users’ data.
The move follows a broader effort by technology companies and advocacy groups in demanding more transparency around US spying programmes.
“Google has nothing to hide,” said David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer in an open letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the office of the US Attorney General. “Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made.”
The companies are prohibited by law from disclosing the existence of national security requests, in particular court orders for user data authorised under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It is asking to publish those numbers in aggregate in its Transparency Report.
Facebook does not publish a transparency report, but said on Tuesday that it would if the government allowed the company to include national security requests.
These requests are at the centre of Prism, a National Security Agency programme revealed last week by The Guardian and Washington Post that seeks intelligence information from the nine leading internet companies, including email and webchats.
Following the revelation, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo issued carefully worded statements, some denying any knowledge or involvement in Prism, but acknowledging that they turned over data in accordance with court orders. None of the companies could be pressed to reveal more about the nature or scope of those orders.
Google and Facebook’s move comes on the same day that a coalition of 85 internet companies and privacy groups have launched StopWatching.Us, an online grassroots effort and petition calling on Congress to investigate and reform laws that govern the FISA court.
“It’s wonderful that Google is doing that. And I don’t think it’s enough,” said Rainey Reitman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We’re looking for an overhaul of the laws that allowed this type of surveillance to happen.”
Also on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the government challenging the constitutionality of its telephone surveillance programme. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would force the government to disclose the legal opinions behind surveillance programmes.
Public opinion over the programmes has been somewhat indifferent. A large majority of Americans – 62 per cent – said it was more important for the federal government to investigate terrorist threats, even if those investigations intrude on personal privacy, according to a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll released on Monday.
Fifty-six per cent said they viewed the NSA’s access of telephone call records through secret orders as “acceptable”.
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