The U.S. Department of Justice and major U.S. technology companies have struck a deal that would allow the companies to tell the public in greater detail about the spying-related court orders they receive.
The agreement was filed in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and would settle demands from companies such as Google, Microsoft and Apple for more leeway to disclose data about the court orders.
Internet companies will be able to release more information, but still only in very general terms when it comes to national security investigations. They can report the number of criminal-related orders from the government. They also will be able to release, rounded to the nearest thousand, the number of secret national security-related orders from government investigators; the number of national security-related orders from the FISA court; and the number of customers affected by both. In the FISA orders, the companies will be able to say the number of requests for personal information about their customers versus their actual emails.
The companies can also choose a simplified reporting process that allows them to report the number of criminal-related orders; then, national security or intelligence orders in increments of 250; and the total number of customers targeted, also in groups of 250.
The companies will have to delay releasing the number of national security orders by six months. They also had to promise that if they come up with new technology or new forms of communication, they are not able to reveal that the government can tap into that new technology for two years.
Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn welcomed the deal, but said more needs to be done. "We filed our lawsuits because we believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive," the companies said in a joint statement. "While this is a very positive step, we'll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed."
Apple said on its website, "We believe strongly that our customers have the right to understand how their personal information is being handled, and we are pleased the government has developed new rules that allow us to more accurately report law enforcement orders and national security orders in the U.S."
"Permitting disclosure of this aggregate data addresses an important area of concern to communications providers and the public," Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a joint statement.