Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo Give First Look at Secret Government Data Requests

World’s major Internet companies began unveiling details about secret government requests for data they receive.

The tech industry giants published details regarding secret government requests for data they receive, in attempt to prove their limited involvement in controversial surveillance efforts. Photo: Sebastian Anthony/Flickr

Facebook, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft decided to shed light on true number of government data requests, trying to avoid further controversies somehow connected with the U.S. surreptitious surveillance programs revealed last summer by wistleblower Edward Snowden.

Last month the government announced that it intended to relax rules restricting what details companies can unveil about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders they receive for user information.

As Yahoo reports, several Internet giants, including Google and Microsoft, brought lawsuits against the government last year, seeking the ability to save more of that data.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith admitted to reporters on Monday the latest data showed that the information the U.S. government required online companies to turn over has not been as vast as some feared.

“We have not received the type of bulk data requests that are commonly discussed publicly regarding telephone records,” Smith said.

“This is a point we’ve publicly been making in a generalized way since last summer, and it’s good finally to have the ability to share concrete data.”

Smith also cited certain media reports – based on obtained by Snowden documents – that the government may have got all the necessary info without tech companies’ permission, by tapping into communications cables that link Google and Yahoo datacenters.

“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,” he said on Microsoft’s blog.

“We believe the Constitution requires that our government seek information from American companies within the rule of law,” the Counsil added.

Meanwhile, Google openly admitted that between 9,000 and 9,999 of its users’ accounts appeared to be the subject of the government’s requests during the period, while Facebook reveled that FISA asked it for between 5,000 to 5,999 members’ accounts.

Yahoo mentioned that the government wanted to learn some data of between 30,000 and 30,999 of its users, which it said could include words in an email or instant message, photos on its Flickr photo-sharing service and address book or calendar entries.

The Internet giants also claimed that they had received between 0 and 999 “non-content” FISA orders between January and June 2013, seeking general information such as user names.

However, it the government replied to the revelations, saying that it would block tech companies from disclosing the number of secret requests they get for user data.

Officials explained that even in case if Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft faced 100 or 1,000 requests they might contain valuable information to terrorists, somehow.

“The government argues that adversaries would be able to use this information to know what services to avoid and to get a picture of what the spy agencies monitor and how that changes over time,” Softpedia reports.

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