Facebook and Microsoft on Friday evening published new statistics about the data they provide to governmental agencies. The stats included national security requests for the first time, after the companies persuaded federal officials to loosen restrictions on public reporting. Apple followed suit on Sunday.
The companies are aiming to alleviate concern over reports that the NSA has broad access to customer data, saying that they only provide access in response to specific requests, and those requests involve a “tiny fraction” of their customers.
But the numbers about national security requests were still lumped together with all government requests, and presented in ranges of thousands, making the “disclosures” decidedly vague. Which is why Google says it isn’t going along with it.
“We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests,” a Google representative says in a statement. “We already publish criminal requests separately from National Security Letters. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.”
Twitter, which wasn’t among the companies implicated in the NSA leak, offered this statement of support via its legal director Ben Lee.
We agree with @Google: It’s important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests—including FISA disclosures—separately.
— Benjamin Lee (@BenL) June 15, 2013
Microsoft in its post on Friday evening said it hopes the government ultimately lets it make additional levels of disclosure.
The company said, “We appreciate the effort by U.S. government today to allow us to report more information. We understand they have to weigh carefully the impacts on national security of allowing more disclosures. With more time, we hope they will take further steps. Transparency alone may not be enough to restore public confidence, but it’s a great place to start.”