Rift on display between tech industry, White House over NSA requests

Tech companies and privacy groups petition the White House and Congress, urging "greater transparency" over secret demands for accessing private user data.

CBS
As expected , many of Silicon Valley's leading companies issued an appeal to the White House and Congress on Thursday over secret demands to access user data.

The petition urges President Barack Obama and the leadership of both parties to foster more transparency after disclosures about a widespread surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency. In the letter, signed by Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others, the companies said Americans "are entitled to have an informed public debate" about what their government is doing. The letter also presses Congress to enact laws forcing the government to provide "comprehensive transparency reporting" as well as "clearly allowing for transparency reporting by companies without requiring companies to first seek permission from the government or the FISA Court."

Here's the text of the letter in full:

We the undersigned are writing to urge greater transparency around national security-related requests by the U.S. government to Internet, telephone, and Web-based service providers for information about their users and subscribers.

First, the U.S. government should ensure that those companies who are entrusted with the privacy and security of their users' data are allowed to regularly report statistics reflecting:

The number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legal authorities such as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the various National Security Letter (NSL) statutes, and others;

The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested under each authority; and

The number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information.

Second, the government should also augment the annual reporting that is already required by statute by issuing its own regular "transparency report" providing the same information: the total number of requests under specific authorities for specific types of data, and the number of individuals affected by each.

As an initial step, we request that the Department of Justice, on behalf of the relevant executive branch agencies, agree that Internet, telephone, and Web-based service providers may publish specific numbers regarding government requests authorized under specific national security authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the NSL statutes. We further urge Congress to pass legislation requiring comprehensive transparency reporting by the federal government and clearly allowing for transparency reporting by companies without requiring companies to first seek permission from the government or the FISA Court.

Basic information about how the government uses its various law enforcement-related investigative authorities has been published for years without any apparent disruption to criminal investigations. We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government's national security-related authorities.

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.

Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties and human rights. We look forward to working with you to set a standard for transparency reporting that can serve as a positive example for governments across the globe.

Companies
AOL
Apple
CloudFlare
Credo
Digg
Dropbox
Evoca
Facebook
Google
Heyzap
LinkedIn
Meetup
Microsoft
Mozilla
Reddit
Salesforce.com
Sonic.net
Stripe
Tumblr
Twitter
Yahoo
YouNow

Nonprofit Organizations & Trade Associations
Access
American Booksellers
Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
American Society of News Editors
Americans for Tax Reform
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for Effective Government
Committee to Protect Journalists
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Computer & Communications Industry Association
The Constitution Project
Demand Progress
Electronic Frontier Foundation
First Amendment Coalition
Foundation for Innovation and Internet Freedom
Freedom to Read Foundation
FreedomWorks
Global Network Initiative
GP-Digital
Human Rights Watch
Internet Association
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Coalition Against Censorship
New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute
OpenTheGovernment.org
Project on Government Oversight
Public Knowledge
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reporters Without Borders
TechFreedom
Wikimedia Foundation
World Press Freedom Committee

 

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