In the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leak of secret NSA surveillance programs designed to gather Americans’ phone records and other data, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have negotiated with national security officials to reveal limited revelations about government orders to turn over data. Facebook, Microsoft, and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have been jointly pressuring the Obama administration to allow for some transparency over what kinds of information were handed over.
As per the Obama administration’s guidelines, which called for no specifics and only total numbers, Facebook revealed that it had received between 9,000 and 10,000 government requests, from local government entities to federal entities, on topics including missing children, fugitive tracking, and terrorist threats. In total, the requests involved the accounts of between 18,000 and 19,000 Facebook users. Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel, explained that the permissions Facebook has received are unprecedented, but that they still want the permission to reveal more in order to repair trust with users.
Microsoft received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas, and orders. This resulted in the involvement of between 31,000 and 32,000 accounts. John Frank, Microsoft’s vice president and deputy general counsel explained, ”We continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues.”
Neither Facebook or Microsoft was allowed to make public exactly how many orders they had received from specific agencies or on what subjects. However, the numbers do include requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) included in the totals.
Google has yet to release its numbers, choosing to wait until more specific and meaningful information can be provided. In a statement, Google explained, ”We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests.” They continued, “We already publish criminal requests separately from national security letters. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.”
Facebook maintains it is committed to protecting user data. ”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.” Facebook’s compliance rate is 79 percent on government requests.