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.
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

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs