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Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo file petitions against US government over FISA snooping

10 Sep 2013
Google logo (Robert Scoble Flickr)

Tech giants Facebook and Yahoo have joined Microsoft and Google in formally petitioning the US government to let them publish information detailing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests they received from the NSA as a part of the agency's notorious PRISM campaign.

Google, which filed its original petition last month, updated its request on 9 September following weeks of government stalling. The search giant's director of law enforcement and information security, Richard Salgado, and director of public policy and government affairs, Pablo Chavez, confirmed filing the petition in a public blog post. The two Google directors said the firm would also make a similar request during a meeting with the President's Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies scheduled for Monday.

"Today we filed an amended petition in the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This petition mirrors the requests made to Congress and the President by our industry and civil liberties groups in a letter earlier this year. Namely, that Google be allowed to publish detailed statistics about the types (if any) of national security requests we receive under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, including Section 702. Given the important public policy issues at stake, we have also asked the court to hold its hearing in open rather than behind closed doors. It's time for more transparency," read the blog post.

"In addition, along with a number of other companies and trade associations, we are meeting the President's Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies today. We'll reiterate the same message there: that the levels of secrecy that have built up around national security requests undermine the basic freedoms that are at the heart of a democratic society."

Meanwhile, Facebook and Yahoo have joined the fray, each filing their own petitions asking to release more information on the extent of government requests made to them. Facebook's general counsel Colin Stretch echoed the industry response, saying: "The actions and statements of the US government have not adequately addressed the concerns of people around the world about whether their information is safe and secure with internet companies.

"We believe there is more information that the public deserves to know, and that would help foster an informed debate about whether government security programmes adequately balance privacy interests when attempting to keep the public safe."

Facebook's petition asked to publish the total number of orders it receives relating to physical searches, business records and wiretap orders, as well as the total number of users who had their messages and other personal content released.

Yahoo also filed a petition similar to Google's, naming specific FISA orders on which it wanted to publish more details.

In August, Microsoft said that it was standing with Google on the issue, with Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith confirming the two companies planned to work together in their bid to release FISA request information.

Prior to Microsoft and Google's joint announcement, Yahoo won a court order allowing the declassification of documents that reveal its efforts fighting the NSA's data requests.

News of the PRISM scandal broke in July this year when ex-CIA analyst Edward Snowden leaked classified documents to the press. The documents showed the NSA is siphoning vast amounts of user data from big-name tech companies.

Outside of its petition to the US government, Google has mounted several other initiatives designed to help protect its customers. Most recently reports broke that Google is rushing to encrypt information stored and passing through its data centres, before the NSA has a chance to scan it.

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Alastair Stevenson
About

Alastair has worked as a reporter covering security and mobile issues at V3 since March 2012. Before entering the field of journalism Alastair had worked in numerous industries as both a freelance copy writer and artist.

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