US Allows More Talk About Surveillance Orders

The U.S. Department of Justice has acceded to requests from some large, technology firms, allowing them to post more specific information about government requests for data on their users, according to a report by The New York Times.

The US Department of Justice is relaxing the rules that keep tech companies from disclosing government requests for data on customers.
The US Department of Justice is relaxing the rules that keep tech companies from disclosing government requests for data on customers.

In a statement released on Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder and James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, the new rules allowing some declassification followed a speech by President Obama calling for intelligence reform.

“The administration is acting to allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, and the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests including the underlying legal authorities,” the joint statement reads. “Through these new reporting methods, communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers.”

[Read more Security Ledger coverage of the NSA surveillance story.]

Previously, companies were prohibited from disclosing details of government requests for data. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple wanted to publicly disclose the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders they received, but were prevented by law from doing so. 

Instead, the government permitted companies to publish a rough number of administrative subpoenas known as national security letters – limited to increments of 1,000.

Under new rules, companies can now narrow the figure to increments of 250 FISA court orders and national security letters. However, they will still be held to increments of 1,000 when discussing FISA orders and national security letters separately, according to reports.

They can also disclose the number of “selectors” — the kinds of data that are the subject of the request, such as user names, email addresses or Internet addresses

Information on surveillance orders can be made public every six months, with reports delayed by six months.

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