Justice Department urges court not to approve tech firms’ request to release more data


A general view of the headquarters of the National Security Administration (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland, USA, 07 June 2013. (JIM LO SCALZO/EPA)
October 2, 2013

The Department of Justice has asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to deny a request from leading technology firms such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft to publish more information about data requests they receive from the government.

In a Sept. 30 filing made public this week, the Justice Department said that disclosing information on the specific number and, in some cases, nature of government requests would “be invaluable to our adversaries,” the filing said.

The filing came in response to requests from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn for permission to release more detailed information on government requests the companies receive. The tech firms, which filed their petitions following revelations about surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency, argued that limiting their ability to disclose such information was a violation of their first amendment rights. The existence of those programs was first reported in The Washington Post and the Guardian, a British newspaper.

On Wednesday, companies who filed complaints with the FISC said they were disappointed that the Justice Department opposed the petitions.

In a statement, a Google spokeswoman said the company believes “more openness in the process is necessary since no one can fully see what the government has presented to the court.”

Yahoo also said it was disappointed with the Justice Department’s decision and urged the agency to reconsider its decision.

“Yahoo and many other technology firms have made the commitment to share the number and type of government requests we receive for our users’ data through regular reports,” a Yahoo spokeswoman said in a statement. “The U.S. Government’s decision to block our ability to share with our users more granular information related to national security requests ultimately breeds mistrust and suspicion— both of the United States and of companies that must comply with government legal directives. As we’ve said before, the United States should lead the world when it comes to transparency, accountability, and respect of civil liberties and human rights.”

Facebook declined to comment. Microsoft and LinkedIn did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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