This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication - Western Union memo, 1876
GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK have called on the US government to let it publish more information about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance requests, following last week's report that a number of major web services provide the US government direct access to their servers.
Last week saw Google, Facebook, Microsoft Appel and several other firms face criticism after it was reported that the US government's PRISM programme allegedly has backdoor access to users' data. While Google, Facebook and Microsoft denied that such backdoors existed, Google and Facebook have asked the US government to allow them to publish more information about FISA surveillance requests they receive.
Google's chief legal officer David Drummond wrote to the US attorney general asking for permission to publish the aggregate number of national security requests, including FISA requests. Drummond requested permission to publish not only numbers but also the scope of the requests.
Drummond said, "Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users' data are simply untrue. However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation."
Facebook general counsel Ted Ullyot requested much the same thing as his counterpart at Google. He asked the US government to allow Facebook to publish data on the number and scope of the surveillance requests that it receives.
Ullyot said, "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."
Despite denying allegations that the US government has direct access, Google and Facebook are desperate to restore user confidence from the fallout of the PRISM revelations. The problem for both firms is that as part of a FISA request, the recipient is prohibited from reporting that it received the request in the first place, therefore users simply do not know the number and extent of FISA requests, leading to mistrust of the firms that hold private data.
Google and Facebook might need to exert some of their lobbying power to get the US government to give them more than just tax breaks, if they are to ride out this crisis of user confidence. µ
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