More than 10,000 people signed Alec Foster's petition to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to allow tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, to publish data requests from the National Security Agency. The companies were barred from publishing that data but on January 27th, the Department of Justice announced that tech firms will now be able to disclose the total number of FISA court orders they receive annually and the total of number of users affected by those requests, as long as they do so in bands of 250 or 1,000.
After a leak of documents from the National Security Agency showed that a secret program called PRISM allows widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens' phone and internet activities with some of the world's biggest tech corporations, the nation is concerned and confused about our privacy rights.
President Obama and the NSA have stated that widespread spying of Americans is not taking place and that the government is only requesting certain data from these companies. There is an easy way to show if this is true and that companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter have taken the commendable step of requesting that the NSA allow them to publish the records of government data requests in their company transparency reports.
In part, Google's letter states:
Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue. However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.
We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.
The government allowed Google to start reporting the number of national security letters they received requesting data earlier this year, but they are still barred from releasing information about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders. The requests for this data often comes in the form of secret court orders that not only force these companies to give data but also make it impossible for them to discuss even the basic details. That should change.
By allowing these companies to include this information in their transparency reports, the government will be giving American citizens at least some of the insight we deserve about how our daily activities like emails and Google searches are being tracked by the government.