Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, others urge for greater U.S. gov't transparency

Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, others urge for greater U.S. gov't transparency

Summary: A coalition of technology firms, including those implicated in the PRISM spying scandal, have signed a letter to the Obama administration urging for greater transparency.

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Close to two-dozen technology firms, including AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, have signed a letter to the U.S. government urging greater transparency in the wake of the National Security Agency's PRISM spying scandal.

Read this

PRISM: Here's how the NSA wiretapped the Internet

PRISM: Here's how the NSA wiretapped the Internet

The National Security Agency's "PRISM" program is able to collect, in realtime, intelligence not limited to social networks and email accounts. But the seven tech companies accused of opening 'back doors' to the spy agency could well be proven innocent.

Since former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked a number of documents that detailed how the U.S. government and its foreign allies were spying on their citizens, many technology companies have tried to distance themselves from claims of collusion and cooperation.

The letter [PDF], which can also be read below, calls on the Obama administration to allow companies to disclose exactly how many government requests for customer and subscriber data that Internet providers, telcos and Web-based companies are handed.

Google first began this trend in early 2010, and others followed suit. Microsoft became the latest firm to join the trend earlier this year after pressure from privacy groups.

But companies are not allowed to disclose the full amount of National Security Letter "gagging orders" handed down by federal authorities. Instead, they are only permitted to report the number range.

The letter also calls for the government to allow these technology firms, and others, to detail how many requests made under Section 215 of the Patriot Act — which demands all "tangible things" including business records and private user data — as well as under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and other related statutes that currently prevent these companies from publishing these figures themselves.

The group also calls for Congress to pass laws that force the U.S. government to report these figures accurately without having to first seek permission from the FISA court.

Also, the companies have launched a group petition on the White House's "We The People" platform.

The coalition includes other technology firms but also civil liberties and privacy groups — such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), among others.

"Democracy demands accountability, and accountability requires transparency," Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said in a blog post on Thursday.

Topics: Security, Apple, Google, Government US, Microsoft

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11 comments
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  • Get right with the 4th Amendment

    "The greatest tyrannies are always perpetrated in the name of the noblest causes." Thomas Paine

    Transparency isn't what is needed. This is simply a red herring to divert attention from the mass collection of MetaData and Email headers and based on the weasel words about credit card and bank records and License Plate recording, maybe those too.

    What is needed is for the 4th Amendment to be followed.

    Amendment IV
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    ====================================

    There is absolutely no way that the things that the FBI, NSA and FISA are doing can meet the 4th Amendment warrant requirement of " particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." This makes it clear that Mass collection of ANY information is unconstitutional.
    CutRightSharpening
  • War Fare

    I think at the end of the day whats done in secret stays that way. You have to to kill in order to see. And if you can operate like that you would be part of the team. Well at least thats what the military taught me. Im not a member anymore. I have never killed anyone but the only way to get out of something dangerous is the ability to give or follow orders. It feels like you are asking the command post to move. I mean robert mcnamara during the 60's made it appear like soldiers where in control of the hippies but in fact none of the soldiers had live ammunition. Checks and balance's. I happen to enjoy the show and am neutral.
    Sean Ridley
  • Facebook and Transparency

    Anybody that has a Facebook account has already freely given away more information than the NSA cares about. And you have done it willingly to a corporation that will sell your information to the highest bidder.
    thenitewatch
  • What else needs to happen

    User business-owner hit the nail right on the head when he brought up the 4th amendment. Our data and metadata is property, and no government agency (or anyone else for that matter) has any real legal authority under the constitution to seize it (such as vacuuming up all the metadata from the company) or to search it without a warrant specifically detailing what is to be searched.

    But in addition to that, we need these companies that collect the data to be more transparent to us. While the data they collect belongs to them, you can't go off on a tirade about privacy without also bringing up the question about how these companies are using the data they collect on us, with full disclosure of who is buying it and how they are using it.

    Either change the protest from "privacy" to "violation of 4th amendment rights" (which are, strictly speaking, not privacy rights but rather rights to protect your property and yourself from bullying by arbitrary government authorities), or take the protest to both sides.
    Jacob VanWagoner
  • transparency

    too many criminals on the inside,corruption and crime rules the world,fbi,cia,nsa and all other cant win against russian mafia,its a reality.
    Michael Wind
  • Democracy is dead

    We the people have been replaced by they, the lobbyists. Big expensive programs like Prism are good for business, the Fourth Amendment is bad for business. Do the math. In this brave new world, Corporations have rights, people don't, so get used to it. As long as the money flows, personal liberties are going down the drain.
    akaltman
  • Transparency??????????????????

    I used to get aound 12 to 13 tracking cookies when on ZDnet. According to Ghostery I'm now showing 19. Are the other 6 or 7 the FBI, NSA, or whoever?????

    Enough is enough with the tracking cookies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Disgruntled_MS_User
  • Reality Check

    As a private individual you don't own any of the data that the government is collecting, the data is owned by the company that holds it, therefore no private individual's 4th amendment rights are being violated. I am no lawyer but a quick Google search confirmed my suspicion that corporations are not afforded the same protection as individuals under the 4th amendment. They do however have some protection. In order to find out where the line is drawn, one of these companies would have to refuse access, and then take the case to the supreme court so that the line can be clearly drawn.

    That being said, I still think that even IF the collection of this data is not in violation of the letter of the law, I think it is in violation of the spirit of the law, and that it crosses many moral and ethical boundaries that our government shouldn't be crossing.

    And yes this surveillance may have prevented a number crimes from being committed, but so would locking every law abiding american citizen in a prison cell "for their own protection", or placing everyone under 24 hour surveillance and supervision.

    In the words of William Blackstone who said in the mid 1700's in England: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer" Which was later paraphrased by Benjamin Franklin when he said "it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer". So even if the data is being gathered by legal means, the data is being used for surveillance of innocent people.
    dkramer3
    • Companies don't get to lie

      We've reached a horrible state where the government can tell companies to lie through their teeth and the same companies we try to trust seem to be more than happy doing it, sidestepping the issue of bulk access. The companies lie straight to our faces when they go along with these gag orders. Surely there must have been laws at one point that the government has to be halfway honest with the people and can't lie with every word they breath, and that the companies we sign agreements with cannot break them with impunity for the sake of unreasonable search and seizure of data. It sounds a bit like corporate fascism, which is definitely against the spirit of our constitution. Corporations are colluding with the government to bypass constitutional protections and then lie about it. There's gotta be something against that, even if it's just people's consciences.
      ossoup
  • I am SO GLAD that I am not a Network Security major..

    With all of the new rules coming out, they'd have to upgrade the Security+ textbook two or three times just to stay up to date, which, is putting even more strain on already struggling Colleges and Universities.
    Richard Estes
  • It seems like a smokescreen

    The tech companies still seem to be lying through their teeth about the government having access to more than specific FISA requests. All they seem to be pushing for is transparency on specific numbers of FISA requests when it completely sidesteps the bulk access issue.
    Telecoms have already admitted that they have allowed bulk dataflows to be captured, and yet they have this shadow argument like this is about general metadata.
    Google was already busted a few years back creating a backdoor to gmail that allowed Chinese hackers to hack people's email accounts, so why the smokescreen stance that there is no bulk or direct access now, and that this is just about a limited number of FISA requests, unless they want to shove the real issue back under the rug?
    ossoup