Google and Facebook said Monday that they, along with other tech firms, have submitted an amended petition to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court asking for permission to publish more information about the requests they receive from the government.
Several companies have asked the surveillance court to allow them to release more information about these requests, in an effort to increase transparency and trust with their users in the wake of revelations about surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency.
In a company blog post, Google said that it’s asking for permission to publish “detailed statistics about the types (if any) of national security requests” it receives under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These include requests made under Section 702 of the act, which authorized the surveillance programs first reported by The Washington Post and the Guardian.
Technology firms, the post said, are also meeting Monday with the President’s Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology to implore the administration to disclose more information.
“We’ll reiterate the same message there: that the levels of secrecy that have built up around national security requests undermine the basic freedoms that are at the heart of a democratic society,” the company said in a statement.
The post was written by Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, and Pablo Chavez, the firm’s director of public policy and government affairs.
In a similar post, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch said that while the government has allowed companies such as Facebook to disclose some information about requests it receives from the government, the ability to be more specific would allow it to ease consumer concerns.
Being able to disclose even ranges of how many requests it has received, Stretch said, “allowed us to make clear that a vanishingly small number of people who use Facebook — a tiny fraction of one percent — were the subject of any kind of U.S. government request in the past year.
Still, he said, it’s not enough.
“[We] have not been permitted to specify even approximately how many of those requests may be national security-related, nor have we been permitted to provide information identifying the number of those requests that seek the content of users’ accounts.”
“We hope and believe the action we take today will help spur the United States government to provide greater transparency about its efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure,” Stretch wrote.
The requests made in the petition are similar to those laid out in a letter that civil rights groups and firms including Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo wrote earlier this year to President Obama and other top administration officials. Several tech firms have already made requests to the court asking to release more information on government queries in the past, or charging that the government’s programs restrict company rights to free speech.
The government has given some companies more leeway in disclosing information, but not nearly as much as many would like. Yahoo, for example, was able to release much more information about its government requests in its first transparency report, including how many of the government’s requests in the first half of 2013 required the firm to turn over information such as the contents of users’ e-mails.
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