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Prism: Microsoft follows Google by asking to release secret FISA data

Microsoft has joined Google in asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for permission to publish data about how many requests for data it receives from the secretive court.

"Disclosure of the aggregate data would not plausibly jeopardize the secrecy of any particular FISA or FAA [FISA Amendments Act] directive that Microsoft may have received," the company said in a court filing.

Under FISA, the FISC can issue requests for user data from tech companies like Microsoft, but the nature of the court requires that those companies remain quiet about having received any such orders. Recently, Microsoft reached a deal with the FBI whereby it can reveal the number of FISA requests it received - but only estimates and only if combined with other, public government requests for data.

Apple and Facebook published the same data, but Google held off and requested that it be allowed to publish the FISA data separately. Microsoft has now requested the same thing. Like Google, Microsoft said in its court filing that the secretive nature of FISA requests and the FISC has prevented it from defending itself against erroneous media reports regarding National Security Agency programmes.

The FBI and Department of Justice have already denied Microsoft's request, so it is now appealing to the FISC.

Banning publication of such data - even if those numbers are rounded up and not specific - "would constitute a content-based restriction on speech that fails to satisfy strict scrutiny, in violation of the First Amendment," Microsoft argued.

"The First Amendment does not permit the government to bar Microsoft from speaking about an issue of great importance to its customers, shareholders, and the public while, simultaneously, senior government officials are speaking publicly about the very same subject," Microsoft continued.

Last week, officials from the NSA and FBI appeared on Capitol Hill to defend US surveillance programmes, arguing that recent leaks present only part of the story and could jeopardise the safety of Americans.

The government contractor who leaked the NSA documents to the press, meanwhile, has fled Hong Kong and is reportedly in Russia awaiting approval for asylum in Ecuador. The US is appealing to foreign governments not to welcome Edward Snowden, but President Obama has recently said that he is "not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," according to ABC News.