The IT backlash against NSA data requests grows as tech big names call for more transparency
The National Security Agency (NSA) is facing a growing revolt from the tech industry over controversial government data requests.
Big names from the tech world including Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn, AOL, Mozilla, and Salesforce.com have called for greater transparency and an end to the gagging order the American government currently places on tech firms when it requests their customers’ data.
The tech giants have so far mostly expressed their displeasure at the NSA, typically via individual lawyer letters, but now in a sign that patience is growing thin with the government requests, 63 companies joined forced with civil liberty groups, journalists, investors, as well as non-profit and trade organisations to call on President Obama as well as US congressional leaders to allow them to report national security-related requests for information with greater transparency.
The call came in an open letter published on Thursday.
“We the undersigned are writing to urge greater transparency around national security-related requests by the US government to Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers for information about their users and subscribers,” the letter said.
Specifically the letter asked the American government to allow them to reveal the number of government requests for information about their users.
It also asked that the firms be allowed to reveal the number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested; and the number of requests that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information.
The tech giants also urged the US government to begin issuing its own regular “transparency report” providing essentially the same information – i.e. the total number of information requests made and the number of individuals affected by each.
In the letter, the tech giants also argue for an end to their gagging orders.
“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,” the letter said. “We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government’s national security–related authorities.”
It said the information about how the government uses the data, and how often, is important for the American people to know.
“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,” the letter read. “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.”
The letter is part of the growing reaction to the privacy concerns that have arisen since Edward Snowden first thrust the NSA’s activities, its PRISM database, and its mass surveillance into the spotlight. Earlier this week in the UK, MPs scrutinising GCHQ access to the NSA’s PRISM database of people’s communications decided the UK intelligence body did nothing illegal, despite previous claims it had broken the law.
Snowden meanwhile remains in an Russian airport, and is reportedly seeking permanent asylum in Russia.
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