Tech firms, DOJ agree to bare number of customer data request

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Five major technology firms and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have agreed to disclose to the public the number of government requests for customer data and how many customer accounts are under surveillance.

Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Linked-In announced in a joint statement on Monday that they are pleased with the agreement and have dismissed their lawsuit seeking to disclose how many snooping requests they receive and are required by court order to comply with.

The suit was filed last summer in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in a bid to let the public know about the volume and types of national security requests the companies receive.

For its part, the DOJ issued a statement Monday justifying the new policy detailed in a letter from Deputy Attorney General James Cole to the five companies. It said the public interest in disclosing the aggregate data now outweighs the national security concerns that required its classification until Monday.

Under the agreement, the technology companies can disclose the volume of requests for national security letters from the FBI or FISC and the number of customer accounts targeted in numbers between zero and 999. The companies have the option to report the two types of requests combined using numbers between zero and 249. The reporting can be made every six months.

Previously, the companies were prohibited from acknowledging that they received such requests. They could only publicized data requests from regular courts and police.

In the lawsuit supported by Apple Inc., the technology companies argued that publishing the aggregate data would reassure their customers that they are not serving as the surveillance arms of the government following revelations by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower about the collection of telephone call metadata and other NSA spying activities.

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