* Google, Microsoft, Facebook want to disclose agencies'
* Tech firms have come under scrutiny over role in NSA
By Gerry Shih and Bill Rigby
SAN FRANCISCO, June 11 Three of the largest U.S.
Internet companies called on the U.S. government to provide
greater transparency on national security requests on Tuesday,
as they sought to distance themselves from reports that
portrayed the companies as willing partners in supplying mass
user data to security agencies.
Google Inc was the first to go public, releasing an
open letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice for permission
to disclose the number and scope of data requests each receives
from security agencies, including confidential requests made
under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Microsoft Corp and Facebook Inc soon followed
with similarly worded statements in support of Google.
The three companies, and several others, have come under
scrutiny following disclosures last week in The Guardian and
Washington Post newspapers of their role in a National Security
Agency data collection program named Prism.
Google's letter - which represented the first instance of
the Mountain View, California-based company acknowledging that
it has received FISA requests - argued that releasing the total
number of national security requests would show the company does
not give the government "unfettered access" to its users' data.
"Assertions in the press that our compliance with these
requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our
users' data are simply untrue," Google Chief Legal Officer David
Drummond wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and
FBI Director Robert Mueller that was published on Google's
public policy blog Tuesday.
"Google's numbers would clearly show that our compliance
with these requests falls far short of the claims being made,"
the letter said.
Google's letter came three days after Director of National
Intelligence James Clapper confirmed Prism's existence and
described it as an internal computer system that helped the
government collect data obtained from Internet companies through
Since 2010, Google has published semiannual transparency
reports that reveal the number of data requests it receives from
authorities. But the reports have never included requests made
under FISA due to their confidential nature.
Following negotiations with the FBI, Google began publishing
in March the number of national security letters - confidential
requests for the data of domestic users - that it receives from
law enforcement officials.
Drummond argued Tuesday that publishing the number of FISA
requests would "likewise serve the public interest without
harming national security."
Other Internet companies that are typically fierce rivals
quickly closed ranks around Google. Sources close to the three
companies said the statements were not coordinated.
"Permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and
scope of national security requests, including FISA orders,
would help the community understand and debate these important
issues," Microsoft said in an emailed statement.
Leading social network Facebook followed within minutes.
"We would welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency
report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook
around the world a complete picture of the government requests
we receive, and how we respond," Ted Ullyot, Facebook's general
counsel, said in an emailed statement.
Twitter's top lawyer Alex Macgillivray also tweeted in
support of Google.
"Completely agree with @Google, @SenJeffMerkley &
others-we'd like more NSL transparency and @Twitter supports
efforts to make that happen," Macgillivray said.