Sources: Facebook in Talks With Feds to Allow FISA Disclosures
According to sources close to the situation, Facebook is in serious discussions with the federal government to allow it to disclose requests under national security laws, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), to the public.
Under this approach, Facebook would presumably be able to disclose aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, as well as their scope. It would also apply to all other Internet companies, said sources.
As with all such dicey talks on an explosively controversial issue, the discussions might not result in any action. In addition — as per usual — the devil will be in the details here, as well as the cooperation of other big Internet companies.
It is notable that Google is not part of these discussions, said sources, but non-cooperation among Internet companies is typical in Silicon Valley.
But it’s clear something’s got to give. Earlier this week, after a myriad of allegations that top Silicon Valley Internet giants had given authorities unprecedented access to their huge stores of information via a National Security Agency program called PRISM (which was denied by all of them), Facebook, Google and Microsoft execs all called on the government to allow them to lift restrictions on reporting national security requests for information.
While the companies have had difficulties been clarifying how they do respond to legally valid government requests for information, partially due to restrictions on disclosure, much damage has been done to their images and reputation due to the focus on the practices.
Google has been most vocal in calling for changes, but sources said Facebook decided to push harder behind the scenes to get the government to make changes in how it can report this information.
How much leverage Facebook has is unclear. It could threaten to sue the government to allow the disclosures, or be more publicly pugnacious about cooperation, as Twitter has done. But, it appears to be opting to get the government to change via these talks with the Justice Department, the NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Unlike Google, Facebook does not publish a so-called “transparency report,” which has information about legal queries received, because of the strict non-disclosure rules for the most important ones. Sources said Facebook execs think that such reports without national security request info is not helpful to consumers, as it leaves out critical information.
“In the past, we have questioned the value of releasing a transparency report that, because of exactly these types of government restrictions on disclosure, is necessarily incomplete, and therefore potentially misleading to users,” said Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel in a statement earlier this week. “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.
He added: “We urge the United States government to help make that possible by allowing companies to include information about the size and scope of national security requests we receive, and look forward to publishing a report that includes that information.”
That was underscored by Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg in a post last week.
“We strongly encourage all governments to be much more transparent about all programs aimed at keeping the public safe,” he wrote. “It’s the only way to protect everyone’s civil liberties and create the safe and free society we all want over the long term.”