Google, Facebook, Yahoo seek permission to publish FISA requests

In an attempt to achieve greater transparency with users, the companies petition the US government for permission to publish requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Three prominent online companies filed a petition with the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in an attempt to improve transparency with users.

Google, Facebook, and Yahoo on Monday announced the petition which requests that the US government allow the companies to publish, in detail, the types of national security requests they have received under the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Google has also requested that the court hold the hearing publicly and not in private.

"It's time for more transparency," Google Law Enforcement and Information Security Director Richard Salgado and Public Policy and Government Affairs Director Pablo Chavez wrote in the blog post on Monday.

FISA has become a lightning rod of controversy in the online world after claims made by former security contractor Edward Snowden and further leaks suggested that major online companies were providing access to user information at the request of the US government. The companies have confirmed that they have received requests under FISA, but the US government has so far declined to allow certain, specific information about the requests to be made public.

"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 statutes," Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell wrote in a blog post on Monday. "The U.S. Government prohibits companies from disclosing this information."

Still, Bell claims, Yahoo believes it can protect public safety while still sharing the number of requests it has received from the government.

"Ultimately, withholding such information breeds mistrust and suspicion -- both of the United States and of companies that must comply with government legal directives," Bell wrote.

All three companies have released some information. However, the US government has only allowed the companies to release information that lumps together any and all law enforcement agency requests, and not those specifically tied to FISA. Like Yahoo and Google, Facebook also believes it's time for more specific information to be shared.

"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," Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch wrote in a statement on Monday. "We believe there is more information that the public deserves to know, and that would help foster an informed debate about whether government security programs adequately balance privacy interests when attempting to keep the public safe."

It's not clear when FISC might make a decision or whether it will ever be made public.