Tech firms seek greater transparency on security information requests

US government allegedly had access to servers of nine major internet companies.

New Statesman
Facebook data center in North Carolina. Photograph: Getty Images.

Tech giants Google, Facebook and Microsoft have urged the US government to ease the order  that prohibits them from disclosing to their users about the number and scope of data requests they receive from security agencies.

This move comes following recent reports in the media that US agencies had access to the servers of nine major firms through its surveillance programme known as Prism, which is operated by the National Security Agency (NSA).

This fact came to light following a series of leaks by Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee.

Although Google said these claims were not true, it noted that the nondisclosure nature of such requests only further fuel the speculation.

In an open letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the office of the US Attorney General, Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond had requested the US government to allow Google to publish in its Transparency Report the aggregate numbers of national security requests, including Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) disclosures, in terms of both the number it receives and their scope.

Microsoft said that greater transparency on the requests would help the community understand and debate these important issues.

Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, professor of internet governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, told the Guardian: “These companies depend on their users being sufficiently trusting to give them personal data. Many of us are perfectly fine for these companies to use this information for their own commercial benefit, to place more relevant adverts on the right hand side, but we do not want it passed on to the government or to tax authorities for instance.”