Facebook, Twitter support Google's call for transparency in surveillance requests

Google had earlier asked the government for permission to publish national security requests in its Transparency Report

Facebook and Microsoft have joined Google in asking for greater transparency in surveillance requests, following widespread criticism of the U.S. government's surveillance programs and the role of the Internet companies.

Twitter's General Counsel Alex Macgillivray also wrote in a message Tuesday on the service that Twitter supports efforts for more transparency in NSLs (national security letters) used by the government to collect data.

The U.S. National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation have access to servers at Google, Facebook and other major Internet services, collecting content for surveillance, the Guardian reported last week. Internet companies denied that they had provided access to the government to their servers.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert Mueller, Google's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond asked that the company should be allowed to publish in its Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including disclosures under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, in terms of both the numbers received and their scope.

Government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel speculation "that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users' data," which Drummond described as untrue. Google published a copy of the letter on its blog.

Facebook's General Counsel Ted Ullyot said in a post on its website that the social networking company would "welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook around the world a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond." Ullyot said the company had not issued a transparency report in the past, as it would be incomplete and misleading because of the government restrictions on disclosure.

Microsoft has also asked for greater transparency, according to reports.

Pressure has meanwhile increased on the U.S. government to provide details of its surveillance programs, including one that required Verizon to provide data on its customers in the U.S.

On Tuesday, eight U.S. senators cutting across political parties introduced legislation that would require the attorney general to declassify opinions issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Civil rights groups have been demanding that these judicial opinions should be made available to the public, after U.S. President Barack Obama called Friday for a debate on the tradeoff between privacy and security.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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