U.S. frees tech companies to give more spying data

Mon Jan 27, 2014 6:59pm EST
 
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By David Ingram

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. technology companies may give the public and their customers more detail about the court orders they receive related to surveillance under an agreement they reached on Monday with the Obama administration.

Companies such as Google Inc and Microsoft Corp have been prohibited from disclosing even an approximate number of orders they received from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. They could give only an aggregate number of U.S. demands that combined surveillance court orders, letters from the FBI, subpoenas in run-of-the-mill criminal cases and other requests.

The deal frees the companies to say, for example, approximately how many orders they received in a six-month period from the surveillance court.

Apple Inc quickly seized on the agreement to disclose that it had received fewer than 250 demands related to national security during the first six months of 2013 - a number the company previously was barred from giving and that it said was "infinitesimal relative to the hundreds of millions of accounts registered with Apple."

Tech companies have sought to clarify their relationships with U.S. law enforcement and spying agencies since June, when leaks to the news media by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began to show the depth of U.S. spying capabilities.

President Barack Obama's administration, however, was wary of disclosing data it believed might help suspected militants in other countries avoid surveillance.

The dispute wound up in front of the surveillance court, a secret court in Washington, D.C., that oversees national security investigations. Five companies asked the court to grant them the authority to disclose data about the court orders they receive.

The agreement, which was filed on Monday with the surveillance court, brings an end to the litigation.   Continued...

 
A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files