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January 28, 2014

US allows tech companies to disclose govt data requests

Allows Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn to disclose overall orders received for government data requests.

By CBR Staff Writer

The US government has reached a deal that allows tech firms to reveal to the public and their customers about how often the government seeks consumers’ data as part of national security investigations.

The US Justice Department signed an agreement with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn in a bid to conclude their legal disputes in front of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Tech firms, which filed case in court seeking the right to publish more information on national security orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, said in a joint statement that they were satisfied with the settlement.

"We filed our lawsuits because we believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive," they added.

"We’re pleased the Department of Justice has agreed that we and other providers can disclose this information.

"While this is a very positive step, we’ll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed."

However, the companies are still not allowed to reveal the type and amount of data being collected by the intelligence agencies.

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The director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and Attorney General, Eric Holder, said in a joint statement that the new declassification rules were prompted by President Barack Obama’s speech on intelligence reform earlier this month.

"As indicated in the Justice Department’s filing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the administration is acting to allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests, and the underlying legal authorities," they said.

"Through these new reporting methods, communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers.

"This action was directed by the President earlier this month in his speech on intelligence reforms.

"While this aggregate data was properly classified until today, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with other departments and agencies, has determined that the public interest in disclosing this information now outweighs the national security concerns that required its classification.

As part of the agreement, tech firms would be allowed to reveal about 1,000 ‘national security letters’ and specific court orders, with another option to reveal about 250 national security requests, lumped collectively.

According to the deal, the reports will come with a six-month lag time, facilitating the data for the second half of 2014 to be published in mid-2015.

The new laws also come with a condition that bans startups from disclosing data on government requests for about two years.

According to officials, still there is a lot of work to be done on other issues, with further steps to be implemented to fully execute the reforms directed by President Obama.

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