Today or tomorrow, the U.S. Justice Department is expected to file a brief with the FISA Court opposing motions from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn requesting the right to publish more information about data requests made by the government. To pre-empt that, the Center for Democracy and Technology has sent a letter to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, requesting them to step up the pace on their own work to create more transparency.
The letter also marks an expansion of the number of companies that are supporting its position to include 10 more tech startups — Foursquare, Twilio and Automattic, owner of the WordPress blogging platform (which is used by TechCrunch among many others) among them — and some 24 other nonprofits and trade associations. That’s in addition to the tech companies, nonprofits and investors that joined the CDT effort in July. The original signatories included AOL, Apple, CloudFlare, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo and many others. While some believe that much of Silicon Valley has been slow to respond in the aftermath of the NSA’s surveillance activities, the moves are a sign of how more are trying to mobilize.
The crux of today’s letter is that it supports ongoing legislation going through Congress at the same time that others in government are working on ways to curtail how effective it might end up being.
The two pieces of legislation in question are S.1452, the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013, and H.R. 3035, the Surveillance Order Reporting Act of 2013, “each of which would clarify that companies have the right to publish basic statistics about the government demands for user data that they receive.”
This would pertain to records from Internet, telephone and web-based service providers for information about their users and subscribers. In the past, officials have said the issue of spying in this way pertained only to non-U.S. nationals who were deemed security risks; more recently, however, there has been information coming to light that appears to indicate that ordinary people are very easily part of that net, too.
“Such transparency is important not only for the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of that surveillance, but also for international users of U.S.-based service providers who are concerned about privacy and security,” the letter notes. Interestingly, the call to action also includes a note to “urge the Committees to hold hearings on the issue of surveillance transparency as a prelude to the markup of these bills,” which could end up providing further revelations on how these practices work. The ramifications, of course, could end up being wider-ranging as a precedent for how data gets handled in other countries, as well.
The letter, addressed to Senators Patrick Leahy and Charles Grassley and Congressmen Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers is embedded below.