Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

FISA Request Data Could Soon Be Public, With Google Also in Talks With U.S. Government About More Disclosure


After AllThingsD.com reported earlier today that Facebook had been in advanced 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, sources said that Google has appeared to be following its lead and is similarly engaged in talks to do the same.

This parallel effort would allow the Internet giants, as well as other digital companies, to disclose aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, as well as their scope.

This controversial issue has occupied Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. over the last week, after a series of news reports about the level of U.S. government scrutiny of telephonic and online communications of all kinds.

While sources noted that the discussions might not result in any action, it appears as if they are in advanced stages and could result in more robust disclosures being allowed if agreements can be made.

Pressure to take action has escalated ever since myriad 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. The companies, also including Microsoft and Yahoo, have denied that kind of “direct” access, but cannot escape the spotlight placed on how much information they are all compelled by the government to hand over legally.

That’s why all of them — facing consumer backlash and a big hit to their reputations — have called on the government to allow them to lift restrictions on reporting national security requests for information.

Google has been most vocal in calling for changes, while also taking to government officials behind the scenes, as Facebook had already been doing. The two companies, though, are not working together, and are having these discussions separately.

How much leverage the pair have together or apart is unclear. Collectively, they could threaten to sue the government to allow the disclosures, or be more publicly pugnacious about cooperation, as Twitter has done.

Instead, they are employing both public statements and private outreach to the Justice Department, the NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The goal is to be able to release more accurate information, typically via a “transparency report,” which discloses legal queries received.

But strict non-disclosure rules for the most important ones, from FISA, prevent the companies from telling users what is being given to the government.

Earlier this week, Google’s top lawyer David Drummond published an open letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI director Robert Mueller Tuesday asking to be able to publish information on such requests.

Drummond noted that the government should be able to “publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures — in terms of both the number we receive and their scope.”

He added: “Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.”

Maybe we will see soon enough, sources tell me, including the possibility that the numbers could be available within a few days.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work