New surveillance request data release doesn’t satisfy tech companies

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-08-2013-05-2008

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate (Select) Intelligence hearing on

DNI James Clapper

The Director of National Intelligence has said it will release aggregate data each year on the number of requests for phone call logs and Internet chats, in hopes of preventing Google and Microsoft from pressing forward with their suits against the U.S. government, seeking permission to release more information on the demands the companies receive from the National Security Agency (NSA) and others for Internet user data. It didn’t work.

The requests covered include those issued under the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA — the law at the center of a firestorm caused by Edward Snowden’s leaks. The government also plans to publish new information about its use of National Security Letters. But the administration’s move was not enough for tech firms like Google and Microsoft, which are fighting the feds to reveal more detailed information about surveillance in a bid to assuage users’ privacy concerns.

Announcing the decision, Clapper in a statement pointed to the president’s June directive to “declassify and make public as much information as possible about certain sensitive U.S. government surveillance programs while being mindful of the need to protect sensitive classified intelligence and national security.” He said the forthcoming reports would be “consistent with this directive and in the interest of increased transparency.” […]

Both Google and Microsoft want to share with users aggregate numbers for requests that are specific to their businesses. Microsoft expressed disappointment Friday with the government’s plans and pledged it would continue fighting to disclose more information.

“The government’s decision represents a good start. But the public deserves and the Constitution guarantees more than this first step,” Brad Smith, the software giant’s general counsel, said in a blog post. Smith lambasted “the failure of our recent negotiations” with the feds and said the company would “move forward with litigation.”

The indispensable Marcy Wheeler analyzes the new releases of information, and demonstrates why it’s probably too little for Google and Microsoft. As she says, much of this information is already required to be released by existing statute. What’s new, she says, is “is the number of people ‘targeted’ under the Section 215” of the Patriot Act. But the number of people has little relation to the number of people whose data has actually been collected, since they’ve admitted to collecting three “hops” away from a target—they collect the data of people the target communicates with, who those second tier of people contact, and in turn who those third tier of people communicate with.

It’s not enough for Google and Microsoft. For its part, a Google representative said, “there is still too much secrecy around these requests and that more openness is needed. That’s why we, along with many others, have called on the U.S. government to allow us to publish specific numbers about both FISA and NSL requests.” The suit continues.

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