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US government agrees to slight transparency increase

US government agrees to slight transparency increase

Companies are now permitted to reveal the number of data access requests they receive from US government agencies, albeit only in broad blocks of 1,000.

The US government has announced an agreement which will marginally increase the transparency with which technology companies can operate, allowing them to disclose information on demands from government departments for customer data.

This week, Apple became the latest company to admit that it is held under a gagging order which prevents it from disclosing requests from government and law enforcement agencies - including the National Security Agency (NSA) - for customer data. When you're trying to convince your customers that storing everything from their photos to their passwords on your US-based server farms is a neat plan, that's not exactly conducive to building up mutual trust - and it's something Cook claimed to be petitioning President Barack Obama over.

Now, the US government has confirmed that it has reached an agreement with major US technology firms to increase the transparency with which they operate - slightly, at least. According to The Wall Street Journal, the agreement will allow technology firms to disclose information in aggregate on government access demands to internet traffic data, including the number of court orders they receive from previously shadowy organisations like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. These figures, however, will be limited to round figures in blocks of 1,000 - or in blocks of 250 but with more broad categorisation of the requests.

The move comes following a legal filing from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Google and Yahoo requesting the right to increased disclosures on data access. 'We filed our lawsuits because we believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive. We're pleased the Department of Justice has agreed that we and other providers can disclose this information,' the companies said of the ruling in a joint statement to press. 'While this is a very positive step, we'll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed.'

The agreement comes as NBC News reports of a previously unseen document leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden claiming the UK Goverment Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) routinely monitors internet traffic to gather information as seemingly inconsequential as Facebook Likes and YouTube favourites to build psychological profiles of its targets.

5 Comments

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Dogbert666 28th January 2014, 10:05 Quote
Well it's good to know that even without Snowden's leaks that Facebook, Google etc. 'believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests [they] receive', and therefore they would definitely have filed their lawsuits and petitioned the government in this way even if the leaks hadn't come to light.

... Right?
Umbra 28th January 2014, 11:49 Quote
Slight transparency, got that right, what they have agreed to is utterly pointless, so we can find out that the NSA made 1000's of requests for personal info from facebook users, so what, we know they are doing it, means nothing :?
Cthippo 28th January 2014, 12:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogbert666
Well it's good to know that even without Snowden's leaks that Facebook, Google etc. 'believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests [they] receive', and therefore they would definitely have filed their lawsuits and petitioned the government in this way even if the leaks hadn't come to light.

... Right?

At least in Google's case, I like to think so.

Back in an earlier day they were the only major tech company who told the government "you want our data? Go get a warrant". They have been consistently reluctant to just hand over data without at least some sort of due process, both in the US and abroad. In some cases, such as China, they have bowed to oppressive government regulations in able to operate, but haven't just rolled over for anyone who claims to be with the government.

The big tech companies don't benefit from massive government surveillance of their customers, and are losing at least some of their reputation now that it has been revealed.
IanW 28th January 2014, 12:14 Quote
I expect these firms will offer "regional" servers to avoid this problem.
What they won't tell us is that they'll be backed up to their US servers regularly.
DC74 28th January 2014, 14:17 Quote
Slight transparency.. oh yeah like a frosted window more like. What they tell us and what they will actually do I suspect will remain two completely different things. They will still request data en masse but will probably not do it so blatantly or as much.

They will simply move their data acquisition to a more secure facility with people they know they can trust and who are under tighter scrutiny, Better not contract it out again then eh guys?
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