Facebook announced today that it will be releasing all national security orders it receives from the US government, including those from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court and National Security Letters.
These federal notices will be included in a transparency report issued periodically, although a specific schedule hasn’t been revealed. However, while this might be good for Internet activists, today’s news only authorizes the company to reveal numbers “in aggregate.”
Adamant that Facebook hasn’t voluntarily participated in the US government’s now-revealed PRISM project, today is the next step in the company’s pursuit of vindication. In a blog post, Facebook’s General Counsel Ted Ulyot stated:
We’ve reiterated in recent days that we scrutinize every government data request that we receive – whether from state, local, federal, or foreign governments. We’ve also made clear that we aggressively protect our users’ data when confronted with such requests: we frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested. And we respond only as required by law.
However, the effect the reported involvement of companies like Facebook, have certainly had an impact on the public perception. To help try and defuse any hostility towards it and to reinforce its claim, Ulyot says that it has advocated for the release of more information from the US government.
Facebook’s move follows Google, who requested permission from the federal government to release more information.
The social networking company revealed that in the second half of 2012, the total number of user-data accounts requested by law enforcement agencies, whether it is local, state, or federal entities, was between 9,000 and 10,000. These cases often “run the gamut” of issues surrounding missing children, tracking a fugitive, investigating an assault, or potential terrorism. On the whole, up to 19,000 accounts were believed to be queried by the US governments.
It was just more than a week since the fallout from revelations that the US government recruited the help of Internet companies to monitor what people were saying online. The disclosure came from Edward Snowden, a former Booze Allen Hamilton employee, who was a contractor for the NSA, and has resulted in swift denials from CEOs of Google, Apple, Dropbox, Microsoft, and Yahoo saying that they do not cooperate with the US on the program.
Naturally, the government has denied that it is engaging in a data mining operation and even President Barack Obama held a press conference denying that his administration is spying on any of the country’s citizens.
Earlier today, Reuters reported that other Internet companies have struck deals with the US government to reveal data. An agreement between the two parties could be a move to help assuage the public’s worries that their government may be conducting surveillance activities on them and strengthen their position that it’s not targeting American citizens. However, before things get “back to normal”, if you will, there’s going to be a lot more that the country will need to do to rebuild the trust it lost from the PRISM reveal.
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