Tech companies negotiate for transparency. [image: UCLA]

Tech companies negotiate for transparency. [image: UCLA]

IN A deal with “U.S. national security authorities,” tech giants Facebook and Microsoft have an agreement with the Obama administration that allows modest transparency. Google is still negotiating with the U.S. Government, with talks getting stuck on an agreement of “a combined figure for all requests.”

It’s an ignominious development for the most powerful brands of Silicon Valley.

Facebook reports in a statement to having over 1 billion monthly active users, with 10,000 requests in the six months before December 2012. That amounts to 18-19,000 users’ accounts.

In particularly in light of continued confusion and inaccurate reporting related to this issue, we’ve advocated for the ability to say even more.

Since this story was first reported, we’ve been in discussions with U.S. national security authorities urging them to allow more transparency and flexibility around national security-related orders we are required to comply with. We’re pleased that as a result of our discussions, we can now include in a transparency report all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters) ““ which until now no company has been permitted to do. As of today, the government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range. This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds.

For the six months ending December 31, 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received from any and all government entities in the U.S. (including local, state, and federal, and including criminal and national security-related requests) ““ was between 9,000 and 10,000. These requests run the gamut ““ from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat. The total number of Facebook user accounts for which data was requested pursuant to the entirety of those 9-10 thousand requests was between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.

Reuters reports on Microsoft:

Microsoft said it had received requests of all types for information on about 31,000 consumer accounts in the second half of 2012. In a “transparency report” Microsoft published earlier this year without including national security matters, it said it had received criminal requests involving 24,565 accounts for all of 2012.

Negotiating for transparency isn’t where the tech giants want to be, but the Obama administration has forced this situation in a wide dragnet that is finally able to be challenged by the ACLU, which sued this past week, because there is no longer any doubt we’re all being spied on.

People are finally starting to digest that what began under George W. Bush has been expanded exponentially under Barack Obama, and poll after poll is showing the majority don’t like it. What can be done about it will have to be adjudicated.