Privacy Advisor

Feds Permit Some National Security Data Requests; Obama Defends Programs

June 17, 2013

By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US, CIPP/E

Tech Companies Permitted To Disclose Combined Gov’t Data Requests

The New York Times reports that on June 14, technology companies were given permission to disclose some data on national security requests publicly but could only do so if the numbers were combined with all law enforcement data requests—including those from state and local governments. In a statement, Google has said the authorization is a “step back for users…Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.” Since early last week, Google has pressed the government to allow it to be more transparent about FISA court requests.  Twitter, which also disclosed a transparency report without national security requests, backed Google in a tweet, “We agree with @Google: It’s important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests—including FISA disclosures—separately.”

Also on Friday, Facebook and Microsoft published reports on how much data has been disclosed to government authorities. Facebook said that in the second half of 2012, it had 9,000 to 10,000 requests for user data from local, state and federal agencies. Apple published its “Commitment to Customer Privacy” on its website and disclosed government requests for user data as well.

The New York Times’ Somini Sengupta, reports that the FISA court has ruled that portions of an earlier opinion could be published to the public. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has pressed the court to allow disclosure of the request under the Freedom of Information Act and called the ruling “a modest one.”

President Obama and U.S. Lawmakers

The Obama administration is considering whether to declassify a court order permitting the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect millions of phone records of Americans, NPR reports. On Sunday’s Face the Nation, President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the collection of metadata from phone records was legal and authorized by Congress. McDonough also said Obama “welcomes a public debate on this question because he does say and he will say in the days ahead that we have to find the right balance, and we will not keep ourselves on a perpetual war footing.”

On Meet the Press, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) said the American people are owed a “fulsome debate in open about the extent of these programs.” Udall is set to introduce legislation to reduce the government’s phone data collection practices. He said of the planned legislation, “This legislation strikes the right balance in protecting our homeland while also respecting our Constitution.”

Trailblazing Lawsuit?

POLITICO reports on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that could break new legal ground. The ACLU suit argues that the NSA phone surveillance program violates the First Amendment and privacy rights and seeks to shut down the program altogether.

The ACLU’s Laura Murphy said, “If this (NSA phone surveillance) came up to the Supreme Court with this Supreme Court, they would declare it unconstitutional.”

Other experts are skeptical.

George Washington University Law Prof. Orin Kerr said the group’s arguments are “weak,” adding “the ACLU’s goal is probably to get discovery” in order to get more documents declassified rather than actually trying to win the case. 

And The Atlantic asks, "Why is it okay for corporations to collect this much data in the first place?"

Read more by Jedidiah Bracy:
FISA Rulings Put Tech Biz Between Rock and Hard Place; Revelations Continue
EU-U.S. Tensions on the Rise; Some Gov’t-Google Sharing Details Revealed
AUSTRALIA—NSA Leaks Reach Australian Shores
Tech Firms, Lawmakers Respond to NSA Leak