U.S. gov't argues tech companies should not be allowed to report data request figures

The U.S. government doesn't want Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and other major technology companies to disclose figures on how many requests it makes for user data.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
U.S. Department of Justice
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Justice Department, along with the rest of the U.S. government, may have shut down while Congress spars over matters of budget disagreement, but it's still waging a war of words against the U.S. tech industry's transparency efforts.

In a filing [PDF] with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the Justice Department argued that technology companies should not be allowed to disclose how many requests it makes to technology companies holding user data.

It comes after months of numerous leaks by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who first blew the lid off the U.S. government's massive surveillance operations, which implicated many of the major players in Silicon Valley.

A number of technology major companies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, have filed motions to the FISC in order to disclose how many requests they receive for user data. While companies are allowed to disclose aggregate data in a numerical range, they are not allowed to disclose final, complete figures.

The Justice Department made its case to the secretive Washington court that such data is "classified," and noted that in spite of its ruling the FISC cannot order the U.S. government to open up, even if rules in favor of the technology companies.

It argued that the decision to classify requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would "undermine the secrecy of the surveillance."

"Such information would be invaluable to our adversaries, who could thereby derive a clear picture of where the government's surveillance efforts are directed and how its surveillance activities change over time, including when the government initiates or expands surveillance efforts involving providers or services that adversaries previously considered 'safe'," it read.

It follows an open letter to Congress by a coalition of technology companies — including Apple, CloudFlare, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo, among others — asking them for greater rights for transparency.

In a letter to Congress, the technology giants and startups asked for Washington to "quickly move forward to consider legislation that would provide greater transparency around national security-related requests by the U.S. government to Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers for information about their users and subscribers."

Meanwhile, Verizon denied to comment on whether it will challenge a court order, leaked by Snowden, that allows the U.S. government to vacuum up every business record of the telco's customer base. 

Here's the filing in full:

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