Wed, Feb 05, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Internet titans disclose US data requests

WEB OF SPIES:Web giants like Google are lobbying Washington to let them release requests data as they seek to rebuild clients’ trust in the wake of the Snowden leaks


Eager to regain the trust of users, Internet titans have for the first time provided insight into the number of secret requests for user data they have received from the US government.

The disclosures from Google, Facebook and others on Monday came a week after US authorities agreed to give technology firms the ability to publish broad details of how their customer data has been targeted by US spy agencies.

The agreement came amid litigation from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The tech giants are seeking the right to release data on vast surveillance of online and phone communications, in the wake of leaked documents from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden

US officials used the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to ask for information from between 9,000 and 10,000 Google user accounts in the first six months of last year, and between 12,000 to 13,000 accounts in the six months prior to that, according to a blog post by Google.

The release of such data was subject to a six-month delay under the terms of an arrangement with the US Department of Justice letting Internet firms be slightly more open about how much information is sought under FISA court orders.

“Publishing these numbers is a step in the right direction and speaks to the principles for reform that we announced with other companies last December,” Google law enforcement and information security legal director Richard Salgado said in a blog post. “But we still believe more transparency is needed so everyone can better understand how surveillance laws work and decide whether or not they serve the public interest.”

Google put the FISA request numbers in a routinely released Transparency Report about efforts by governments to legally obtain data from the California-based Internet titan.

Facebook on Monday disclosed that it received FISA requests for information from accounts of 5,000 to 6,000 of its more than 1 billion members in the first six months of last year, as well as for the accounts of 4,000 to 6,000 of its users in the six months prior to that.

Meanwhile, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith wrote in a blog post that FISA orders were used to demand information from between 15,000 to 16,000 user accounts in the first six months of last year.

Yahoo then revealed that in the same time period, US officials wielding FISA court authority came looking for information from 30,000 to 31,000 of its users’ accounts.

The Sunnyvale, California-based company said that while in the tens of thousands, the number of accounts targeted with FISA requests made up less than 0.001 percent of its global user base.

Apple last week disclosed that in the first half of last year it received 249 or fewer FISA or National Security Letter requests for information about users of services provided by the maker of iPhones, iPads, iPods and Macintosh computers.

Apple said in a post that information targeted in the letters involved transactional data such as people’s contact information, not content.

Yahoo, Facebook, Google and others promised to routinely update the FISA request figures and keep pressing for legal reform to share more information with users.

Currently, Internet firms are allowed only to give ranges of FISA request numbers and are barred from disclosing details regarding what was asked for or from whom.

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