Technology Companies Send Criticism Along With NSA-Related Data -- Update

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Danny Yadron

Technology leaders such as Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. issued new complaints Monday about President Barack Obama's government snooping overhauls along with new broad figures on the amount of data requests they receive from U.S. intelligence agencies.

The shift in tone by some Silicon Valley companies shows that the Obama administration still hasn't addressed many of the industry's major concerns as it attempts to quell privacy hawks following disclosure by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Companies issuing statements and data related to intelligence-gathering Monday included Google, Microsoft, Yahoo Inc., and Facebook Inc.Apple Inc. released its own figures last week.

Last week, the Justice Department cut a deal to allow the firms--for the first time--to disclose the amount of requests they receive from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, commonly referred to as FISA orders. The move was meant to head off potential legislation or an extended court battle, and companies praised the move as a step in the right direction.

But the companies are still only allowed to release those figures in broad ranges of 1,000, and after a six-month delay.

Google, for instance, said it received 0-999 FISA requests for user content affecting 9,000-9,999 of its accounts. Under a separate program, it received 0-999 requests from the court for 0-999 accounts, according to a post on its website.

On its website, Google noted current data are blocked by the Justice Department.

"We still believe more transparency is needed so everyone can better understand how surveillance laws work and decide whether or not they serve the public interest," said Google legal director Richard Salgado in a blog post. "You have the right to know how laws affect the security of your information online."

Specifically, Mr. Salgado said Google should be allowed to release the specific number of requests it receives.

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith pointed out that Mr. Obama still hasn't addressed the issue that perhaps has most angered Silicon Valley executives: The NSA's ability to collect information from U.S. companies--without a court order--by tapping into cables between data centers overseas.

"Despite the president's reform efforts and our ability to publish more information, there has not yet been any public commitment by either the U.S. or other governments to renounce the attempted hacking of Internet companies," Mr. Smith said. "We believe the Constitution requires that our government seek information from American companies within the rule of law."

Between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2013, the software company took in 0-999 FISA orders seeking content from 15,000-15,999 accounts. At the same time, it received less than 1,000 FISA orders for "noncontent" data for less than 1,000 accounts.

Mr. Smith said Microsoft has challenged some of those requests in court.

Social media company Facebook received fewer requests. During the first half of last year, the government sent 0- 999 FISA content requests for 5,000-5,999 accounts, according to a post on its website. For noncontent requests, it received 0-999 requests for 0-999 accounts.

Executives at the companies said they at least hope the new figures show that government requests target only a fraction of their users. The government, by contrast, attempts to collect data on all phone calls from major carriers in the U.S., according to documents leaked by Mr. Snowden and former U.S. officials.

Facebook took a slightly more positive tone.

"The new information we are releasing today marks a significant step forward," said Colin Stretch, the company's general counsel. "As we have said before, we believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent."

The Obama administration has said the surveillance programs primarily target foreign intelligence targets. To that end, the government requested far more data from Yahoo, which is popular abroad.

Yahoo fielded 0-999 requests for content from 30,000-30,999 accounts during the first half of last year, it announced Monday.

"The President made clear that the U.S. government intended to take steps that would enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders they have received to provide data to the government," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. "We believe that all of these reforms taken together help chart a path forward that should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, while preserving important tools that keep us safe, and addressing significant questions that have been raised overseas."

Write to Danny Yadron at

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