Five tech companies are withdrawing motions demanding that they be allowed to release more information in their transparency reports today. The Department of Justice announced that it is working to, “allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers.”
The companies involved include Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, and LinkedIn.
“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. 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 companies said in a statement emailed to VentureBeat.
One of the hottest topics for tech companies is the ability to properly report the take-down request and data requests they receive. These are requests from government and law enforcement agencies either demanding that a piece of content be removed from a website or that information on a specific user or group of users be handed over.
Over the past months, there haven’t been consistent allowances on who can report what. Some companies were allowed to release bits and pieces of requests pertaining to national security in their transparency reports but never the whole pie.
Tech companies wanted the ability to report how many of these national security requests were made, how many people they affected, and under which laws they were justified. This included information about Patriot Section 215 and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Section 702 requests.
The DOJ was not specific about what it will now let these tech companies disclose, but they seem appeased for the time being.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil rights advocacy group, is predictably skeptical, however.
“While we welcome this small crack in the wall of secrecy that surrounds the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and everything it does, it is only a first step. Today’s deal does not allow the companies to disclose details about which laws the government is using to seize our data, or give us anything more than a vague numeric range to quantify those demands,” said EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozoin a statement emailed to VentureBeat. “True transparency — as well as the First Amendment — requires that companies be allowed to map the scope of the United States government’s surveillance apparatus. There is no national security justification for requiring that only vague numeric ranges, rather than exact numbers, be disclosed.”