Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft petition US over surveillance requests

The companies made a renewed push for greater transparency around data requests related to national security

Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all filed petitions Monday with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as part of a renewed effort to reveal more information about government data requests.

The companies had already petitioned the U.S. government to let them be more specific in reporting the volume of national security-related requests they receive, following the first leaks in June about government surveillance programs like Prism.

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The companies said Monday they are pushing harder now because those previous efforts did not pay off.

Facebook was permitted in June to release, within a range, the total number of requests for user data received in a given period, including not only criminal matters but also national security-related requests, including FISA and National Security Letters, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch said in a blog post.

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Twitter have also called for greater transparency in disclosing government data requests following the Prism revelations.

"But that one step is not enough," Facebook's Stretch said Monday.

"The actions and statements of the U.S. government have not adequately addressed the concerns of people around the world about whether their information is safe and secure with Internet companies," he said.

To foster an informed debate about whether the government programs adequately balance privacy interests with public safety, "we believe there is more information that the public deserves to know," Stretch said.

Yahoo made similar statements. "We filed the suit today because we are not authorized at present to break out the number of requests, if any, that we receive for user data under specific national security statues," Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said in a blog post.

Yahoo released its first transparency report last week, which did not break out national security requests.

Facebook, Google and Yahoo agreed that while government surveillance may serve national security interests, the levels of secrecy around national security requests "undermine the basic freedoms that are at the heart of a democratic society," Google said in a blog post.

"We believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent," Facebook's Stretch said.

Google and Yahoo have confirmed they were to attend a meeting Monday with President Obama's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation that it will also attend that meeting.


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