Facebook May Publish Transparency Reports While Google, Microsoft And Twitter Also Seek Permission To Reveal Nature Of NSA's Request For Private User Information

Tech Companies Want More Transparency On Government Requests For Data

  on June 12 2013 6:57 AM
NSA Internet Phone
The U.S. National Security Agency logo appears on an Apple iPhone display. Reuters

Following the example of Google Inc. (Nasdaq:GOOG), which on Tuesday asked the government to lift the gag order preventing it from disclosing the nature of information the National Security Agency, or NSA, sought from it, more Internet companies have come forward with similar requests.

Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq:FB), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT) and Twitter on Tuesday said they support greater transparency to address users' privacy concerns about the NSA's requests for information.

Facebook, in a statement, said it may start publishing its own “transparency reports” and urged the U.S. government to allow it to do so.

"We would welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook around the world a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond," Ted Ullyot, Facebook's general counsel, said in an emailed statement.

During Facebook's first shareholders meeting, on Tuesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reiterated his comments that the social networking site does not give the NSA direct access to its servers or users' data.

"No one has ever approached us to do anything like what was reported," Zuckerberg said, according to a Reuters report. "We basically give the minimum amount of information that we need to comply with the law." 

The Guardian and the Washington Post reported last week that the NSA’s surveillance program, PRISM, collected a wide range of user data from Internet and mobile companies, triggering heated debate about user privacy vs. national security.

Google, on Tuesday, in a letter published on its blog and addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, said that the company favors revealing the extent of information sought by law enforcement agencies worldwide.

Google has not denied reports that it participated in the PRISM program, but it has maintained that it does not give the NSA "unfettered access" to its users' data.

Microsoft also released a similar request in a statement that said: "Permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and scope of national security requests, including FISA orders, would help the community understand and debate these important issues," Reuters reported.

Microblogging site Twitter also said it supports the efforts for more transparency in National Security Letters, or NSLs, which are used by the government to collect data secretly, with the approval of a judge in a secret court.

“Completely agree with @Google, @SenJeffMerkley & others—we'd like more NSL transparency and @Twitter supports efforts to make that happen,” Twitter's general counsel Alex Macgillivray tweeted.

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