Facebook, Google, Yahoo petition the government to break out more data requests

Greater transparency is needed around national security-related requests, the companies said

Facebook, Google and Yahoo on Monday filed petitions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as part of a renewed collective effort to provide more information to their users about government data requests.

The three Internet companies have all previously petitioned the government to let them be more specific in reporting national security-related requests since the first leaks of government surveillance programs such as Prism were published in June in The Guardian and The Washington Post.

The companies say they are pushing harder now because those previous efforts did not pay off.

Facebook in June was permitted to release, within a range, the total number of law enforcement requests for user data received in a given period, including not just criminal matters, but also all U.S. national security-related requests including FISA and National Security Letters, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch said Monday in a blog post.

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter have also called for greater transparency in disclosing user data tied to government requests in the wake of Prism's revelations.

"But that one step is not enough," Facebook's Stretch said Monday.

"The actions and statements of the U.S. government have not adequately addressed the concerns of people around the world about whether their information is safe and secure with Internet companies," he said.

To help foster an informed debate about whether government security programs adequately balance privacy interests when attempting to keep the public safe, "we believe there is more information that the public deserves to know," Stretch said.

Yahoo made similar arguments on Monday. "We filed the suit today because we are not authorized at present to break out the number of requests, if any, that we receive for user data under specific national security statues," Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said in a blog post.

Yahoo released its first transparency report last week, which did not break out national security requests.

Facebook, Google and Yahoo agree that while government surveillance may serve the interests of national security, the levels of secrecy that have been built up around national security requests "undermine the basic freedoms that are at the heart of a democratic society," Google said in its own blog post.

"We believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent," Facebook's Stretch said.

Google and Yahoo have confirmed a meeting Monday with President Obama's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation that it will also attend that meeting.

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