Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have been pushing the U.S. government to give them the rights to publish statistics on secret surveillance of customers for over two months, and up until now the government hasn’t been very accommodating. And while the Obama administration announced late last week that it would begin releasing limited statistics on its own, the two tech giants say that it isn’t nearly enough.
The tug-of-war began in June when Google and Microsoft petitioned separately for permission to reveal the number of national security requests that each received from the government for customer data. The U.S. government asked for six extensions in two months and on Thursday announced that it would release limited statistics independently regarding the total number of national security requests it had issued for customer data over the past 12 months — something it will do once a year moving forward.
However, Google and Microsoft are pressing for the right to reveal more statistics, saying that the U.S. government’s newest plans for transparency are not enough. The two companies now want more detailed accounts of requests including the number of requests targeting user content versus requests for metadata, like the sender and recipient of an email.
Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, wrote on the company’s blog, “[W]e believe it is vital to publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email.” He continued, “These figures should be published in a form that is distinct from the number of demands that capture only metadata such as the subscriber information associated with a particular email address.”
Smith also indicated that the information could be revealed to the public without any significant security risk. “We believe it’s possible to publish these figures in a manner that avoids putting security at risk. And unless this type of information is made public, any discussion of government practices and service provider obligations will remain incomplete,” he explained.
And on the topic of Google and Microsoft’s unusual partnership in this ordeal, Smith wrote, “today our two companies stand together. We both remain concerned with the Government’s continued unwillingness to permit us to publish sufficient data relating to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders.”
So while Google and Microsoft haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, a potential team-up between the two companies could produce the firepower needed to push the government into revealing more detailed information. The question is when.