News / USA

    US Frees Tech Companies to Provide More Spying Data

    In this undated file photo made available by Google shows the campus-network room at a data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
    In this undated file photo made available by Google shows the campus-network room at a data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
    Reuters
    U.S. technology companies may give the public and their customers more detail about the court orders they receive related to surveillance under an agreement they reached on Monday with the Obama administration.
     
    Companies such as Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have been prohibited from disclosing even an approximate number of orders they received from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. They could give only an aggregate number of U.S. demands that combined surveillance court orders, letters from the FBI, subpoenas in run-of-the-mill criminal cases and other requests.
     
    The deal frees the companies to say, for example, approximately how many orders they received in a six-month period from the surveillance court.
     
    Apple Inc. quickly seized on the agreement to disclose that it had received fewer than 250 demands related to national security during the first six months of 2013 - a number the company previously was barred from giving and that it said was “infinitesimal relative to the hundreds of millions of accounts registered with Apple.”
     
    Tech companies have sought to clarify their relationships with U.S. law enforcement and spying agencies since June, when leaks to the news media by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began to show the depth of U.S. spying capabilities.
     
    President Barack Obama's administration, however, was wary of disclosing data it believed might help suspected militants in other countries avoid surveillance.
     
    The dispute wound up in front of the surveillance court, a secret court in Washington, D.C., that oversees national security investigations. Five companies asked the court to grant them the authority to disclose data about the court orders they receive.
     
    The agreement, which was filed on Monday with the surveillance court, brings an end to the litigation.
     
    The five companies said in a joint statement: “We filed our lawsuits because we believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive. We're pleased the Department of Justice has agreed that we and other providers can disclose this information.”
     
    The companies were Facebook Inc., Google, LinkedIn Corp., Microsoft and Yahoo! Inc. Apple filed a brief supporting the five companies.
     
    The agreement applies to all companies and gives them options on how to present information.
     
    Number of Orders
     
    A company that offers email services, for example, would be able to say it received between zero and 999 orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court during a six-month period for email content belonging to someone outside the United States.
     
    “Permitting disclosure of this aggregate data addresses an important area of concern to communications providers and the public,” Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a joint statement.
     
    The agreement does not cover what the NSA might gather covertly in bulk outside the United States, only what it gets directly from the companies.
     
    The agreement carves out some other exceptions. The numbers companies can give are only ranges: sometimes in increments of 250, and sometimes in increments of 1,000. Apple said the national security orders it received totaled between zero and 249.
     
    If a company introduced a new communications platform, it would need to wait two years before telling the public about a court order for information about that platform. The silence is designed to lull suspected militants into using, or continuing to use, new forms of communication.
     
    Obama had pledged greater transparency about U.S. surveillance programs, most recently in a speech he delivered at the Justice Department on Jan. 17.
     
    After months of negotiations among the tech companies, Justice Department lawyers and intelligence officials, a breakthrough came about the night before that speech, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
     
    At that meeting with White House officials, James Cole, the deputy attorney general, described details of a possible compromise, the official said. The reaction within the administration was positive, and during conference calls the following week, the companies agreed to the proposal.
     
    The companies said in their statement on Monday that they would consider lobbying lawmakers on other, unspecified fronts.
     
    “While this is a very positive step, we'll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed,” they said.

    You May Like

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    First Human Head Transplant Planned for 2017

    Italian neurosurgeon, assisted by team of 100 medical staff, to perform 36-hour surgery on Russian man with debilitating muscle-wasting disease

    Biden Urges Global Focus on Cancer as a 'Constant Emergency'

    At Vatican conference on regenerative medicine, Vice president notes that cancer kills more than 3,000 people each day in US alone

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora