Google is unsatisfied with the deal that Microsoft and Facebook have made with the US government with regard to publishing how many requests for user information they both receive. Facebook and Microsoft released reports tonight detailing how many requests they got from US government agencies in the second half of 2012 — including FISA requests. The deal, however, comes with strings that Google apparently doesn't want to be tied to.
There were restrictions put on Facebook and Microsoft's disclosures that make them fairly useless if you're interested in determining how many FISA requests have come in. As Microsoft says, it can only include the number of FISA requests it receives so long as it is "aggregated with law enforcement requests from all other U.S. local, state and federal law enforcement agencies; [and] only if the totals are presented in bands of 1,000." The same rules appear to apply to Facebook, as well.
Those restrictions mean that you wouldn't be able to tell how many of the 8-9,000 requests each company received were from local law enforcement or from the NSA. So Google is having none of it. Here's what a Google spokesperson said to The Verge (emphasis ours):
We have always believed that it's important to differentiate between different types of government requests. We already publish criminal requests separately from National Security Letters. Lumping the two categories together would be 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.
To be fair, both Microsoft and Facebook have also been pushing hard for more transparency and more freedom to disclose what types and how many requests they receive. All three companies have come under heavy fire from users after initial reports about PRISM suggested that the US government had "direct access" to their servers, a charge each company has consistently (and vehemently) denied.
Even so, the increased scrutiny on the NSA and its data mining activities — however they are carried out — has tech companies scrambling to ensure that the public directs its ire at the government and not at them. Despite each company's different short term tactic when it comes to disclosing numbers, their long-term strategy on transparency appears to be the same: more of it.
Update: Benjamin Lee, Legal Director at Twitter, has just signaled his company's agreement with Google's stance. He did it, appropriately enough, via a tweet:
We agree with @Google: It's important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests—including FISA disclosures—separately.— Benjamin Lee (@BenL) June 15, 2013