June 16, 2013
National Security Data Requests Revealed By Facebook, Microsoft
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
On Friday night, Microsoft and Facebook independently announced that the US government had somewhat relaxed their nondisclosure agreements, allowing them to reveal they had thousands of requests from authorities for user data affecting tens of thousands of individuals.
The announcement comes as both companies are under an increased level of scrutiny since the leaking of a US government internet surveillance program known as PRISM. Government officials insisted that only foreign terror suspects have been targeted and the program is necessary to prevent future attacks.
Facebook revealed it had received from 9,000 to 10,000 government requests for user data affecting between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts during the second half of 2012. Microsoft said it had gotten between 6,000 and 7,000 requests, impacting from 31,000 to 32,000 accounts during the same time span.
The companies noted those requests included criminal warrants and subpoenas. Both companies said they were restricted from giving greater details.
"We continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues," Microsoft attorney John Frank wrote on the company´s official website.
He noted the requests only affect a "tiny fraction of Microsoft's global customer base.”
Facebook lawyer Ted Ullyot said the popular social network “aggressively" protected its members´ privacy and had not filled all the requests.
"We frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested. And we respond only as required by law," he said, according to the AFP news agency.
Microsoft´s Frank alluded to his company´s efforts to maintain consumer confidence while staying in compliance with the law.
“We appreciate the effort by US government today to allow us to report more information,” he wrote. “We understand they have to weigh carefully the impacts on national security of allowing more disclosures. With more time, we hope they will take further steps. Transparency alone may not be enough to restore public confidence, but it´s a great place to start.”
According to PRISM information leaked by government contractor Edward Snowden, nine companies with ties to the internet complied with requests for user data from National Security Agency. The companies, which also include Apple and Google, have asserted the NSA could directly access their servers.
At a congressional hearing, FBI Director Robert Mueller told lawmakers the program could have prevented the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, adding that the leaks had caused "significant harm to our nation and to our safety.”
Snowden, a 29-year-old IT technician, is currently the subject of a criminal investigation and has fled to Hong Kong. He briefly surfaced last week in a video interview released by The Guardian, the UK newspaper responsible for shining a light on the classified US government program.
The United States has yet to ask for a formal extradition from the former British colony. This week, protesters staged a demonstration denouncing the PRISM program and preemptively asking that Hong Kong deny any request for extradition.
Complicating matters is China´s control over Hong Kong´s defense and foreign affairs. The court system remains autonomous and free from official Beijing control.