The Senate Intelligence Committee, whose chairman, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has defended the surveillance efforts, asked the NSA on Tuesday to publicly explain programs that use telephone and Internet records “so that we can talk about them, because I think they’re really helpful,” she said.
Calls for greater transparency, rather than new limits on government powers, have been the main public fallout in the days since The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that the NSA was collecting and analyzing data flowing through nine U.S. Internet companies. The program, called PRISM, reportedly was focused on foreigners but also collected data on U.S. citizens and residents that could, under certain conditions, be reviewed by officials.
Both Google and Facebook, whose business models depend on hundreds of millions of users voluntarily sharing information about themselves, have denied participating in a surveillance program as broad as described in news reports on PRISM. Yet all the companies named in reports have struggled to stanch the damage to their reputations as stewards of personal privacy.
Google on Tuesday published an open letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III requesting the right to report publicly the numbers and scope of national security data requests, a move that would allow Google to significantly expand its semiannual “transparency reports” on the information sought by courts and police worldwide.
“Google has nothing to hide,” wrote Chief Legal Officer David Drummond. The Justice Department declined to comment.
Facebook soon after issued a statement suggesting that it may start publishing its own “transparency reports” — a move the company has long resisted. “We urge the United States government to help make that possible by allowing companies to include information about the size and scope of national security requests we receive, and look forward to publishing a report that includes that information,” wrote Ted Ullyot, general counsel to Facebook. (Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham is on Facebook’s board.)
Microsoft issued a statement as well, saying that greater transparency “would help the community understand and debate these important issues.”
Yahoo said late Tuesday that “we recognize the importance of privacy and security, and we also believe that transparency . . . will help build public trust.”