All the big tech companies are opening up a bit more about requests made by the U.S. National Security Agency, with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn detailing new info included in their respective transparency reports today. The new reports now include how many requests for the data of its members it has received from the government, how many total users were affected, and what percentage of those receive a response from the company.
Apple released similar data last week alongside its earning call, and there’s a reason for the timing that’s non-coincidental: A change to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act just put into effect now allows the companies to share more specifics around what kind of information they’re sharing and being asked to share by the government. The increased transparency was put into effect last week, in a ruling addressed to the legal counsel of all those companies listed above.
These new reports will be updated every six months, which is also stipulated in the new ruling, subject to changes in the degree of transparency legally allowed by the government. The rules allow for the information around number of FISA orders for content, non-content (i.e. age, name and location) and number of customer accounts to be narrowed only by blocks of 1,000 or more, and the number of customer accounts affected to be reported in chunks of 250.
It’s not pulling back the curtain entirely, but it is a step towards greater transparency. This is likely part of U.S. President Obama’s efforts to introduce surveillance reforms, but hopefully it’s just the start, because I imagine this will leave a lot of interested observers hungry for more.