updated 03:25 pm EDT, Tue October 1, 2013
Laws would only offer more precision in reporting gov't. requests
Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo are among the companies that have signed a new Center for Democracy and Technology letter asking the US Congress to pass Rep. Zoe Lofgren's (D-CA) Surveillance Order Reporting Act of 2013, and Sen. Al Franken's (D-MN) Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013. The bills were first introduced in August, and would let companies be more precise about when and how often they receive national security-related requests and hand data over to the government.
Lofgren's bill would allow estimates in bands of 100, and reporting requests in separate categories according to the laws involved; new reports could be issued every quarter. Franken's law wouldn't involve rounding to any particular number, but if a company received fewer than 500 requests in a given period, it wouldn't be allowed to be more precise. The petitioning companies have been hoping to be as precise as possible, but have so far been stymied. Only Google and some other firms have been given permission to publish figures on government requests in bands of 1,000. Dropbox, meanwhile, has only said that it received fewer than 100 requests from any US law enforcement agency during 2012.
Other signatories on the letter include AOL, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Reddit, the Software Alliance, and the Internet Association, the last of which is an organization founded by parties like Google and eBay. Some of the larger participants are already pursuing lawsuits against the US government, arguing that being unable to tell customers about the number of issued and acted-on government search requests is a violation of the First Amendment.
The companies' support for the laws can be traced back to public anger over the scope of the National Security Agency's domestic spying program, exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Many companies -- like Apple, Microsoft, and Verizon -- were revealed to have handed over large swaths of data, although the businesses have typically claimed they had no choice. By getting the right to publish better data, the companies may be able to win back some public support.