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US Companies Allowed To Publish NSA Data Request Numbers

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Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn win a battle against the NSA, but the war is far from over

Communication providers that store their data in the US will be allowed to tell their customers just how often the National Security Agency (NSA) requests data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), as part of the new deal with the Obama administration.

The negotiations began in June 2013, after former IT contractor Edward Snowden started revealing the extent of data collection programmes operated by the US intelligence agency.

According to Reuters, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn will be able to publish approximate numbers of requests issued by the secret FISA courts, hoping to prove they did not betray the trust of their customers by cooperating with the NSA without a valid reason.

Better than nothing

Previously, technology companies couldn’t acknowledge government requests from FISA courts, but were allowed to publish the total number of all types of information requests made by the government. The Obama administration has always maintained that revealing any information about the methods of the NSA would help suspects avoid surveillance.

obamaflagusgovernment © spirit of america / Shutterstock.comEventually, five companies took the matter to the very same court that is tasked with issuing such requests, demanding to be allowed to reveal the number of court orders they receive. Even though Google, Microsoft and the team won, the information they were allowed to publish is still very limited.

All numbers are approximate, have to appear in a range format, and do not include any information obtained outside the US. And if a company introduces a new communications platform, it will need to wait two years before telling the public about a court order for information about that platform.

“Permitting disclosure of this aggregate data addresses an important area of concern to communications providers and the public,” Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a joint statement.

Apple didn’t participate in the lawsuit, but it did file a supporting brief. The company has already used the opportunity to reveal it received fewer than 250 requests for user information during the first half of 2013 – welcome news for its customers.

“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,” said a joint statement from the winning party.

While the tech giants appear pleased with the deal, it may not be the end of the story: “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 statement adds.

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