US government agrees to slight transparency increase

January 28, 2014 // 9:34 a.m.

Tags: #edward-snowden #gchq #government #nsa #privacy #security #snowden

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.

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