Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have all unveiled new information on user data requests from the US government for the first time, following changes in the laws regarding transparency.
The information was revealed on their respective company blogs, and despite being given the right to release more data, they called for the US government to do more to promote transparency.
Previously, companies were not allowed to reveal the number of government data requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But under pressure from large tech firms, the US government changed the rules to allow companies to detail the number of FISA requests they receive, subject to a few conditions.
The demand for such data has increased greatly since the industry was rocked last summer by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed the US government's PRISM campaign of snooping internet and telephone call data across the US and Europe. Tech firms have sought to clear their names to prove they have not been providing backdoor access to customer data.
Between January and June 2013, FISA orders related to around 16,000 Microsoft accounts. On its TechNet blog, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said the data vindicated the firm's previous claims that the data requested in secret did not amount to a large percentage of accounts.
"Only a fraction of a percent of our users are affected by these orders," he said. "In short, this means that we have not received the type of bulk data requests that are commonly discussed publicly regarding telephone records. This is a point we've publicly been making in a generalised way since last summer, and it's good finally to have the ability to share concrete data."
On its blog, Google revealed that between 9,000 and 9,999 of its users' accounts had provoked FISA orders requesting "content" data, meaning information such as messages or payment details. Less than 999 further accounts had been requested for "non-content" data such as names, IP information and email addresses.
Google's legal director for law enforcement Richard Salgado said that while the relaxation of the law was a step in the right direction, Google would continue to push for increased transparency. "We want to disclose the precise numbers and types of requests we receive, as well as the number of users they affect in a timely way," he wrote. "That's why we need congress to go another step further and pass legislation that will enable us to say more."
Yahoo said between 30,000 and 30,999 accounts had been affected by FISA requests for content data between January and June 2013.
All the companies made it clear that they would ensure every request made was within the law. Yahoo's legal team wrote on its blog: "As always, Yahoo will continue to protect the privacy of our users and to ensure our ability to defend it.
"This includes advocating strenuously for meaningful reform around government surveillance, demanding that government requests be made through lawful means and for lawful purposes, and fighting government requests that we deem unclear, improper, overbroad or unlawful."
Microsoft's Smith added: "Despite the president's reform efforts and our ability to publish more information, there has not yet been any public commitment by either the US or other governments to renounce the attempted hacking of internet companies."
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