The US Department of Justice (DOJ) this week revealed that it has reached an agreement with some of the world's biggest technology companies that will allow those companies to publicly disclose more information when they've been asked to turn over user information in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests. Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and Microsoft have agreed to the compromise, as has Yahoo!, and other tech firms are expected to join the effort soon, as well.
"Through these new reporting methods, communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers," a joint statement by Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reads. "In the weeks ahead, additional steps must be taken in order to fully implement the reforms directed by the president."
According to the DOJ, companies will now be able to reveal more detailed information about the number and scope of user data requests that they get from national security agencies, including the number of customer accounts that are impacted and the identity of the legal authorities making the request. But it's not the full disclosure the firms were asking, and they publicly called on the US Congress to "take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed."
The compromise comes in the wake of multiple requests from Microsoft and other firms that they be allowed to more transparently communicate about these requests to customers. As noted in "Tech Execs Tell Obama to Curb NSA Surveillance," senior executives from Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Twitter, and Yahoo! met with President Obama in December to discuss this issue. In the wake of this compromise, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! have all withdrawn motions that they previously filed against the FISA court.
Although Apple wasn't explicitly part of this agreement, the firm published a separate letter in which it detailed its own relationship with national security agencies. "We are pleased the government has developed new rules that allow us to more accurately report law enforcement orders and national security orders in the [United States]," the letter notes. Apple is apparently trying to distance itself from other companies, like Google, that "collect large amounts of personal data about customers."
Regardless of this agreement, most major tech firms won't rely solely on government cooperation, as they fear that ongoing news about international governmental eavesdropping efforts will undermine public faith in cloud computing. In "Microsoft Strikes Back at Spying, Will Encrypt All Cloud Activities," I reported on Microsoft's plans to expand its cloud-computing encryption capabilities and open transparency centers in Europe, the Americas, and Asia to accommodate governments that wish to inspect source code, for example.