The tech industry has pushed for greater transparency on
government data requests, seeking to shake off concerns about their
involvement in vast, surreptitious surveillance programs revealed
last summer by former spy contractor Edward Snowden.
The government said last month it would relax rules restricting what
details companies can disclose about Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders they receive for user
information. Several companies, including Google and Microsoft, sued
the government last year, seeking the ability to disclose more of
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said on Monday the latest data
showed that the info the government has asked online companies to
turn over has not been as vast as some feared.
"We have not received the type of bulk data requests that are
commonly discussed publicly regarding telephone records," Smith
said. "This is a point we've publicly been making in a generalized
way since last summer, and it's good finally to have the ability to
share concrete data."
Between 15,000 to 15,999 Microsoft-user accounts were the subject of
FISA court orders requesting content during the first six months of
2013, the company said.
Still, Smith cited media reports — based on Snowden's leaked documents — that the government may have intercepted user
information without tech companies' knowledge or cooperation, by
tapping into communications cables that link Google and Yahoo
"Despite the President's reform efforts and our ability to publish
more information, there has not yet been any public commitment by
either the U.S. or other governments to renounce the attempted
hacking of Internet companies," he said on Microsoft's blog. "We
believe the Constitution requires that our government seek
information from American companies within the rule of law."
Several Internet companies had previously disclosed an approximate
number of national security letters, which typically seek customer
data without court approval. Now, they have greater leeway also to
disclose details around FISA orders.
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Google said that between 9,000 and 9,999 of its users' accounts were
the subject of such requests during the period, while Facebook said
it received FISA content requests for between 5,000 to 5,999
Yahoo said between 30,000 and 30,999 of accounts received FISA
requests for content, which it said could include words in an email
or instant message, photos on its Flickr photo-sharing service and
address book or calendar entries.
The companies released the information on their respective blogs.
The various requests affected a fraction of a percent of the
hundreds of millions of users each company says employ its online
services, from email and search to social networking.
In terms of aggregate requests, Microsoft, Google and Facebook said
they each received between 0 and 999 FISA content requests during
the first six months of 2013.
The companies are required to report the number of requests in
increments of 1,000, and can only report the data with a six-month
delay, under the relaxed rules.
The three companies also said they had received between 0 and 999
"non-content" FISA orders between January and June 2013, seeking
general information such as user names.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; editing by Dan Grebler)
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