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.

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.

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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

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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