Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and many more companies are asking President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress for greater transparency on PRISM, NSA surveillance of Americans, and government requests for data about their customers.
And, they’ve started a WhiteHouse.gov petition to require more accountability from the NSA on its spying programs. Yahoo has also posted to its corporate blog, saying that democracy demands accountability, and accountability requires transparency.
“We are proud to join dozens of our partners across the tech industry, civil society organizations, and trade associations to urge greater transparency by the U.S. government regarding national security demands for our users’ information,” Yahoo’s general counsel Ron Bell wrote.
News broke about the coming letter, which is addressed to Obama and 15 other leading legislators, last night. In the letter, Silicon Valley is essentially asking Washington to be more open. The companies are not asking for all surveillance to go away — they’re too realistic for that — but they do ask for the right to be able to tell their customers how many times the government is asking for information on them.
Here’s the complete letter:
We the undersigned are writing to urge 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.
First, the U.S. government should ensure that those companies who are entrusted with the privacy and security of their users’ data are allowed to regularly report statistics reflecting:
- The number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legal authorities such as Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the various National Security Letter (NSL) statutes, and others;
- The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested under each authority; and
- The number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information.Second, the government should also augment the annual reporting that is already required by statute by issuing its own regular “transparency report” providing the same information: the total number of requests under specific authorities for specific types of data, and the number of individuals affected by each.
As an initial step, we request that the Department of Justice, on behalf of the relevant executive branch agencies, agree that Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers may publish specific numbers regarding government requests authorized under specific national security authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the NSL statutes. We further urge Congress to pass legislation requiring comprehensive transparency reporting by the federal government and clearly allowing for transparency reporting by companies without requiring companies to first seek permission from the government or the FISA Court.
Basic information about how the government uses its various law enforcement–related investigative authorities has been published for years without any apparent disruption to criminal investigations. We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government’s national security–related authorities.
This information about how and how often the government is using these legal authorities is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those authorities and their use, and to international users of US-based service providers who are concerned about the privacy and security of their communications.
Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties and human rights. We look forward to working with you to set a standard for transparency reporting that can serve as a positive example for governments across the globe.
Signing companies include:
- Apple Inc.
- CREDO Mobile
Nonprofit and trade organizations organizations that are also signing the open letter include:
- American Booksellers Foundation for Free
- American Civil Liberties Union
- American Library Association
- American Society of News Editors
- Americans for Tax Reform
- Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School Center for Democracy & Technology
- Center for Effective Government
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Competitive Enterprise Institute
- Computer & Communications Industry Association
- The Constitution Project
- Demand Progress
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- First Amendment Coalition
- Foundation for Innovation and Internet Freedom
- Freedom to Read Foundation
- Global Network Initiative
- Human Rights Watch
- Internet Association
- Internet Infrastructure Coalition
- Liberty Coalition