Apple, Google, dozens of others urge surveillance disclosures

Thu Jul 18, 2013 1:15pm EDT
 
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(Reuters) - Dozens of companies, non-profits and trade organizations including Apple Inc, Google Inc and Facebook Inc sent a letter Thursday pushing the Obama administration and Congress for more disclosures on the government's national security-related requests for user data.

Together with LinkedIn Corp, Yahoo! Inc, Microsoft Corp, Twitter and many others, the companies asked for more transparency of secret data gathering in the letter addressed to President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, National Security Agency (NSA) Director General Keith Alexander and national security leaders in Congress.

Tech companies have been scrambling to assert their independence after documents leaked last month by former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden suggested they had given the government direct access to their computers as part of the NSA's secret surveillance program called Prism.

Such data collection activities are overseen by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and largely done under the laws of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the USA PATRIOT Act.

The classified nature of the data gathering has barred the participating companies from disclosing even their involvement, let alone the content of the requests.

The leaks have renewed a public debate over the balance between national security and privacy, and have put tech companies in an awkward position, especially because many have been assailed for their own commercial use of customer data.

Some companies, including Facebook and Apple, in June struck an agreement with the government to release some information about the number of surveillance requests they receive. But they were limited to disclosing aggregate government requests for data without showing the split between surveillance and criminal requests, and only for a six-month period.

In Thursday's letter, they asked to be allowed to regularly report statistics on the number and scope of user data requests done under specific national security authorities and the number of individuals, accounts or devices affected by those requests.

"This information about how and how often the government is using these legal authorities is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those authorities and their use, and to international users of U.S.-based service providers who are concerned about the privacy and security of their communications," the letter said.   Continued...

 
An Apple logo is seen at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2013 in San Francisco, California June 10, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam