Tech giants like Google and Microsoft have been fighting against U.S. governmental anarchy and unaccountability for long. They have been partially successful in this regard. For instance Google’s challenge to FBI National Security Letters (NSLs) has been narrowed down by the Court.
Google has been facing both legal and technological hurdles in its fight against lack of transparency and accountability on the part of U.S. government. While gag orders have successfully made it silent on numerous occasions yet cyber attacks upon the systems managing the lawful interception and e-surveillance issues of Google have also been launched.
Microsoft has recently disclosed that negotiations to reveal details of secret U.S. government requests for internet user data have failed to materialise and the matter would now be decided in a court of law. In fact, Microsoft and Google have already filed suits in a U.S. federal court in June, arguing a right to make public more information about user data requests made under the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Although U.S. officials have assured that they would begin publishing annual tallies of national security requests for internet user data yet tech companies are not satisfied with this step as this approach clearly lacks the clarity. Companies are insisting that it is vital to publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email. In short, they are insisting that along with providing numbers of requests, disclosures should provide context regarding what is being sought.
Companies have been insisting that the U.S. government should ensure that those companies who are entrusted with the privacy and security of their users’ data are allowed to regularly report statistics reflecting the number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legal authorities such as Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the various National Security Letter (NSL) statutes, and others, the number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested under each authority and the number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information.
The Companies also believe that the government should also augment the annual reporting that is already required by statute by issuing its own regular “transparency report” providing the same information: the total number of requests under specific authorities for specific types of data, and the number of individuals affected by each.
The Companies are maintaining that till these objectives are fulfilled, the agencies must agree that Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers may publish specific numbers regarding government requests authorized under specific national security authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the NSL statutes. The companies have also requested the U.S. Congress to pass legislation requiring comprehensive transparency reporting by the federal government and clearly allowing for transparency reporting by companies without requiring companies to first seek permission from the government or the FISA Court.
Basic information about how the U.S. government uses its various law enforcement–related investigative authorities has been published for years without any apparent disruption to criminal investigations. The Companies now seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government’s national security–related authorities.
This information about how and how often the government is using these legal authorities is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those authorities and their use, and to international users of US-based service providers who are concerned about the privacy and security of their communications.
The Utah Data Center is considered to be a facility for e-surveillance though the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) denies the same. Similarly, James Clapper has confirmed during the PRISM outbreak that NSA is targeting foreign citizens for surveillance.
With the ever increasing e-surveillance and eavesdropping by governments around the world, technological safeguards must be adopted to fight the same. These technological safeguards must be fully supported with legal protections, especially those available under the Constitutions of various countries.