Mike Isaac

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Facebook, Google, Yahoo Push FISA Courts for More Data-Disclosure Transparency

In an ongoing battle regarding governmental data requests of companies, some of the tech industry’s largest firms took another step on Monday to push the federal government to allow for greater transparency.

Facebook, Google and Yahoo filed amended petitions to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, pushing specifically for the ability to publicly disclose how often the federal government requests data from Web companies for national-security-related purposes.

“The actions and statements of the U.S. government have not adequately addressed the concerns of people around the world about whether their information is safe and secure with Internet companies,” Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch said in a statement on Monday. “As we have said many times, we believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent.”

Web companies have long been severely limited in the ability to disclose the nature, type and frequency of requests for data they receive from governments at all levels around the world. For some time, it has been against the law for Web companies to even acknowledge that they received National Security Letter data requests.

In light of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s recent revelations surrounding government surveillance programs, however, tech companies have faced intense public ire and demands to know just how much data they are handing over to state courts.

“Ultimately, withholding such information breeds mistrust and suspicion — both of the United States and of companies that must comply with government legal directives,” Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said in a statement.

Google in particular has long lobbied for more granular detail, leading the industry in publishing a semiannual transparency report with as much detail as it can provide, and others, like Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo, have since followed suit. But with this most recent round of petitions, the tech companies have banded together to speed up the long, arduous process of inciting legal change.

Along with Monday’s filed petitions, a coalition of Internet companies and advocacy groups, including Apple, AOL and LinkedIn (along with today’s petitioners), will meet with the President’s Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies in Washington, D.C., today, discussing much of the same subject matter.

“It’s time for more transparency,” Google said in a statement.

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