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Apple, Google, Microsoft push Obama for US data request transparency

Several dozen top tech firms, trade groups, non-profits, and investors have penned a letter to President Obama, the director of national intelligence, and several members of Congress, demanding greater transparency around national security-related issues.

The letter - signed by Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, and more - requests permission to reveal publicly the number of government requests for data made under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, via National Security Letters, and more.

Like other transparency reports from Google, Twitter, and the like, the firms also want to say how many accounts and customers those requests affected, as well as how many sought specific content about users.

"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 letter said.

That's unlikely given the secretive nature of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), where most of these requests originate. As a compromise, the letter proposes that the Justice Department - "as an initial step" - allows tech companies to "publish specific numbers regarding government requests authorised under specific national security authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the NSL statutes."

"Basic information about how the government uses its various law enforcement–related investigative authorities has been published for years without any apparent disruption to criminal investigations," they continued. "We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government's national security–related authorities."

Similar efforts have already been rebuffed. Microsoft said this week, for example, that the DOJ and FBI denied its request to share more information, prompting it to appeal to the FISC.

Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo reached a deal with the feds whereby they could release national security-related data as part of their transparency reports - but only aggregated with all the other government request data. They have since requested permission to break out that data, but have thus far been unsuccessful.

The issue of government requests for data has made headlines in recent weeks after a former government contractor, Edward Snowden, handed over documents to The Guardian which he said provides evidence of widespread surveillance. The National Security Agency (NSA), FBI, and DOJ have argued that their activities are legal, while tech companies claim that they only hand over data after they are presented with a court order.

Not everyone is convinced; the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which also signed the letter) and a number of other groups this week sued the NSA, DOJ, and FBI over its data-collection processes.

Other companies that co-signed the letter include: AOL, Cloudfare, Credo Mobile, Digg, Dropbox, Evoca, Facebook, Heyzap, LinkedIn, Meetup, Mozilla, Reddit,,, Stripe, Tumblr, and YouNow.