Internet firms release data on NSA requests

2014-02-04 21:13

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington - A flurry of new reports from major technology companies show that the US government collects customer information on tens of thousands of Americans every six months as part of secret national security investigations. And the companies' top lawyers struck a combative stance, saying the Obama administrative needs to provide more transparency about its data collection.

Freed by a recent legal deal with the Obama administration, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr provided expanded details and some vented criticism about the government's handling of customers' Internet data in counter-terrorism and other intelligence-related probes.

The figures from 2012 and 2013 showed that companies such as Google and Microsoft were compelled by the government to provide information on as many as 10 000 customer accounts in a six-month period. Yahoo complied with government requests for information on more than 40 000 accounts in the same period.

The companies earlier had provided limited information about government requests for data, but an agreement reached last week with the Obama administration allowed the firms to provide a broadened, though still circumscribed, set of figures to the public.

Seeking to reassure customers and business partners alarmed by revelations about the government's massive collection of Internet and computer data, the firms stressed details indicating that only small numbers of their customers were targeted by authorities. Still, even those small numbers showed that thousands of Americans were affected by the government requests approved by judges of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The data releases by the major tech companies offered a mix of dispassionate graphics, reassurances and protests, seeking to alleviate customer concerns about government spying while pressuring national security officials about the companies' constitutional concerns.

The shifting tone in the releases showed the precarious course that major tech firms have had to navigate in recent months, caught between their public commitments to Internet freedom and their enforced roles as data providers to US spy agencies.

In a company blog post, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith scolded the US and allied governments for failing to renounce the reported mass interception of Internet data carried by communications cables. Top lawyers and executives for major tech companies had raised alarms previously about media reports describing that hacking by US and United Kingdom spy agencies and cited them during conversations with US officials during President Barack Obama's internal review of planned changes to the government's spying operations.

"Despite the president's reform efforts and our ability to publish more information, there has not yet been any public commitment by either the US or other governments to renounce the attempted hacking of Internet companies," Smith said in a Microsoft blog release. He added that Microsoft planned to press the government "for more on this point, in collaboration with others across our industry."

Unfettered access

The new figures were released just a week after major tech firms announced a legal agreement with the Justice Department. But lawyers and executives for the companies openly vented their discomfort with the government's continuing insistence that they could only provide broad ranges instead of the actual numbers of government requests.

The companies said they would press for narrower data ranges that would offer more details. "We will also continue to advocate for still narrower disclosure ranges, which will provide a more accurate picture of the number of national security-related requests," said Erika Rottenberg, LinkedIn's general counsel.

On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the tech firm reports show "how infrequently these capabilities are called upon." He also said that officials were still discussing whether they could loosen restrictions on other information, such as figures involving non-US citizens.

Google and all the other companies denied that they gave any government unfettered access to their users' info. The companies are worried more people will reduce their online activities if they believe almost everything they do is being monitored by the government. A decline in Web surfing could hurt the companies financially by giving them fewer opportunities to show online ads and sell other services.

The companies can only reveal how many total requests they receive every six months, with the numbers in groupings of 1 000. And even those general numbers must be concealed for at least six months after any reporting period ends. That restriction means the FISA requests for the final half of last year can't be shared until July, at the earliest.

The data released Monday indicated the US government is digging deeper into the Internet as people spend more time online.

Most of the companies showed the number of government requests fell between 0 and 999 for each six-month period. But the numbers of customers affected by those searches ranged more widely.

All the companies also received FISA requests that weren't aimed at scooping up online communications or photos. Those demands sought things such as billing information and locations of where people made an Internet connection.

- AP
Read more on:    google  |  microsoft  |  us  |  privacy
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Sport

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Deal of the week!

20% off Afrikaans books, music and DVDs. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R1000 on Hisense smartphones!

View the large range of Hisense smartphones. Buy today and save up to R1000!

Hot gaming titles – available for pre-order!

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Day Zero Edition, Far Cry 4, Grand Theft Auto 5 and more. Pre-order now!

Get a free eBook

Buy 3 eBooks and get the cheapest FREE. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Bargain box – 60% off

Reduced prices, very limited stock. While stocks last. Hurry and shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Power and leadership are emphasized today. It is important to strategize and delegate well otherwise you may end up with too much...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.