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PRISM: Microsoft, Apple, Google write to Obama and NSA demanding data transparency

19 Jul 2013
Top secret envelope

Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo and 17 other technology giants have sent a letter to  the NSA, attorney general Eric Holder and president Barack Obama, and numerous other recipients, demanding transparency from the US government over user data requests.

They have also set up an online petition for members of the public to show their support. The letter was also signed by a number of non-profit organisations and trade associations including Human Rights Watch, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation.

The corporations said publishing user data on request should be treated in the same way as other investigations, and insisted that the government take responsibility for the respect of civil liberties.

The letter listed key information that it argued companies should be allowed to publish:

  • "The number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legal authorities.
  • The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested under each authority.
  • The number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information."

In addition, the group said that the US government should publish its own reports detailing which companies it has been requesting information from, and how much information it has asked for.

The companies said that in order to allow the technology industry to continue to prosper, the suggested steps had to be taken.

"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," the letter said.

On Tuesday, Yahoo won the right to reveal data requests after a court battle, with Microsoft pushing for further transparency with an in-depth blog post on its stance. Microsoft has been hit especially hard by the PRISM surveillance allegations leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, with repeated claims of "blanket access" to Microsoft services having to be denied by the company.

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Michael Passingham

Michael Passingham joined V3 as a reporter in June 2013. Prior to working at V3, Michael spent time at computing magazine PC Pro. Michael covers IT skills, social media, tech startups and also produces V3's video content.

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