Web giants demand more transparency on spy inquiries

In an open letter, some of the biggest names in tech, along with leading advocacy groups, ask Congress to expedite the right to be transparent about government surveillance of users.

Tech giants and advocacy groups alike are lobbying Congress for the right to be more transparent about government requests for user data. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

A group of some of the biggest names in technology and advocacy has written an open letter to Congress demanding greater transparency when it comes to government requests for user data.

In the letter (PDF), companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Microsoft, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, and others wrote to Congress to promote the passage of the Senate's Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013, and the House's Surveillance Order Reporting Act of 2013, "each of which would clarify that companies have the right to publish basic statistics about the government demands for user data that they receive."

Tech companies have been increasingly pushing for the right to be transparent about the number and type of government requests for user data in recent weeks and months. Earlier this month, LinkedIn joined a group of companies that included Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others in " filing a petition in the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking the ability to publish the specific number of national security-related requests we receive (if any) under each of the various provisions of FISA."

The urgency for transparency has grown since revelations earlier this year that the US government has been stepping up its efforts to tap into the servers of leading tech companies in a bid to mine users' data and information about their behavior. Some Internet companies have been pushing for the right to publish information about how often the government has made requests for such data.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco earlier this month. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

In an on-stage interview earlier this month at TechCrunch Disrupt, for example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about his company's efforts to let the public know about the number of requests it gets from the government. Zuckerberg said he hoped to tell Facebook users how often those requests had come, and whether the number was in the thousands or millions. He added that the number was much closer to 1,000.

 

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