Group of tech giants to demand greater NSA transparency

Sixty-three companies, trade groups, and civil liberties groups will ask officials for greater latitude in reporting U.S. government requests for user information, according to a letter obtained by AllThingsD.

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Steven Musil
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Many of technology's most prominent companies will reportedly join civil liberties groups on Thursday in calling for dramatically increased transparency regarding U.S. government surveillance activities.

Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are part of an alliance signing a letter to be published Thursday that calls on President Barack Obama and Congress to allow Internet and telecommunications companies to offer more details about U.S. government requests for user information, according to an AllThingsD report. The alliance, which reportedly includes 63 companies, investors, and trade groups, will request greater latitude in regularly reporting information about the number of requests they receive; the number of individuals, accounts, or devices; and the number of requests received for communications content or subscriber information, according to the report.

"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," a copy of the letter obtained by AllThingsD reads. "We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government's national security-related authorities."

The letter is the most concerted effort to date by tech companies to address allegations they participated in controversial data collection programs run by the National Security Agency. The NSA and the Obama administration have said the goals of the surveillance programs were to track down foreign terrorists and terrorist threats.

Legally barred from discussing their participation in the program, Google and Microsoft have petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to lift a gag order prohibiting them from disclosing more information about government requests they receive for customer data. To date, the companies have released only totals that combine legal requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with others related to criminal investigations involving fraud, homicide, and kidnapping, making it impossible to determine how many FISA requests they have received.

According to AllThingsD, the alliance includes companies and groups such as AOL, Digg, Dropbox, Evoca, Heyzap, LinkedIn, Meetup, Mozilla, Reddit, Salesforce.com, Tumblr, Twitter, Yahoo, YouNow, Union Square Ventures, Y Combinator, Public Knowledge, Reporters Without Borders, and the Wikimedia Foundation.