Facebook and Yahoo have asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for permission to publish details of national security requests they receive from the US government for user data.
In a policy statement on Tumblr, Yahoo’s general counsel, Ron Bell, explained that the firm filed the suit because it is not authorised to break out the number of requests, if any, that it receives for user data under specific national security statutes.
The US government prohibits companies from disclosing this information.
“We believe that the US government’s important responsibility to protect public safety can be carried out without precluding internet companies from sharing the number of national security requests they may receive. Ultimately, withholding such information breeds mistrust and suspicion-both of the United States and of companies that must comply with government legal directives,” he said.
Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, said that while initial efforts to enable companies to divulge information about the government requests they receive have been successful, the actions and statements of the US government have “not adequately addressed the concerns of people around the world about whether their information is safe and secure with internet companies”.
“Although we have been permitted to disclose a range of the total number of requests we have received and the number of users associated with those requests, we have not been permitted to specify even approximately how many of those requests may be national security-related, nor have we been permitted to provide information identifying the number of those requests that seek the content of users’ accounts,” he said.
Stretch added that dialogue with the US government at this moment is unlikely to result in more progress, and as a result, Facebook is joining other firms in petitioning the FISC to require the government to enable firms to publish the national-security-related numbers.
Google and Microsoft have also petitioned the court. Google wants a court hearing on the matter to be made public, while Microsoft wants to publish details of orders that have asked for metadata such as subscriber information associated with particular email addresses.
Yahoo, Google and other internet firms were to meet with President Obama to discuss the issues of national security and technology, including transparency, yesterday.