Google, Facebook and Microsoft on Tuesday asked the government for permission to reveal details about the classified requests they receive for the personal information of foreign users,Claire Cain Miller reports in The New York Times.
They made the request after revelations about the National Security Agency’s secret Internet surveillance program, known as Prism, for collecting data from technology companies like e-mail messages, photos, stored documents, videos and online chats. The collection is legally authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which forbids companies from acknowledging the existence of requests or revealing any details about them.
Google for the first time publicly acknowledged it had received FISA requests and said it had complied with far fewer of the requests than it received. Facebook and Microsoft did not go as far as discussing requests they had received but, like Google, said it wanted to be able to publish information on the volume and scope of the government requests.
Many questions remain unanswered after the leak of N.S.A. documents about Prism, including precisely how the tech companies and the government cooperated. Prism refers to an automated system for electronically exchanging information regarding FISA requests, according to people briefed on how it works. On Tuesday, David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, said in an interview on British television that Google hands over the information to the government in person or by using a file-transferring technology called secure FTP.
But the companies say they are frustrated that they are unable, because of a government gag order, to give more details of sharing user data with the government. That gap in information has fed speculation that is untrue, Mr. Drummond wrote in a letter on Tuesday to Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller, the director of the F.B.I.