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PRISM: Twitter backs Google, Facebook and Microsoft on right to reveal government data requests

12 Jun 2013
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Twitter has added its voice to those of Google, Microsoft and Facebook in calling on the US government for the right to share more data with the public on how they handle information requests.

Twitter general counsel Alex Macgillivray said in a message on the site that he backed the calls for this increased data sharing as it would help improve transparency.

His comment came after Google sent an open letter to the director of the FBI and the US attorney general Eric Holder asking to be allowed to share more data on the information requests it receives from law enforcement.

Google wants permission to disclose the details of those requests through its Transparency Report programme. Currently, the report allows Google to give the public limited statistics on how many government data requests the company receives and how many it grants.

Now, the company wants to also be able to tell the public how far those data requests reach and to what extent the requests are made through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Google legal chief David Drummond said in the letter: “Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the US government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue.

“However, government non-disclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.”

Microsoft and Facebook have joined the calls for greater transparency, in the face of growing anger over US snooping.

Microsoft said in a statement: "Our recent report went as far as we legally could and the government should take action to allow companies to provide additional transparency."

Facebook also said in a statement that greater freedom to share details of data requests would enable it to provide users with "a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond."

The tech giants have been aggressively trying to distance themselves from the US government and its agencies ever since word broke that the companies were contributors to the controversial PRISM data archive.

All insisted that they did not willingly participate in helping to build the system and were only made aware of PRISM when the first press reports surfaced. The release of the data by a whistleblower who worked on contract with the NSA has sparked an outcry from privacy and civil rights groups.

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Shaun Nichols

Shaun Nichols is the US correspondent for He has been with the company since 2006, originally joining as a news intern at the site's San Francisco offices.

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