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Google, Facebook to DOJ: Let Us Publish the Number of FISA Requests You Make

Flickr user marismith

Google's top lawyer is asking Washington to let the company expand its transparency report to include secret court orders like the kind involved in the NSA surveillance scandal.

In a letter posted to Google's blog, David Drummond addresses Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, arguing that when the government allowed Google to disclose the number of National Security Letters the company gets (another form of data request), nothing bad happened. So why not extend the disclosure permissions to requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, too?

Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue. However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.

We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.

Because FISA requests come with gag orders, Google and other tech companies can't even say whether they have received them. If the government grants Google's request, it would shine a great deal of light on the country's security apparatus.

Read the full letter here.

Facebook's general counsel later joined in Google's call for more government transparency—and he also implies that Facebook would prepare a periodic transparency report of its own if that happened.

"We would welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook around the world a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond," said Ted Ullyot in a statement. "We urge the United States government to help make that possible by allowing companies to include information about the size and scope of national security requests we receive, and look forward to publishing a report that includes that information."

(Image via Flickr user marismith)

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