Microsoft has formally requested it be given permission to "disclose aggregate statistics" concerning how many secret FISA requests for user information it has received. It's part of the ongoing PR battle that Microsoft and other technology companies are fighting in the wake of the original PRISM leak, where it was alleged that these companies gave the government "direct access" to their servers. Microsoft, like the rest of the companies implicated, has aggressively denied such claims. It's come to light that Microsoft is joining Google in seeking permission to talk more about the scope of the secret requests it receives, as noted by All Things D.
To combat the perception that it's giving away user data, Microsoft and other companies have released "transparency reports" that disclose how many government requests they have received. The issue, however, is that these reports have traditionally not included secret FISA requests. Instead, they've mainly included state, local, and non-secret federal requests. In a move to try to open up more, Microsoft and Facebook got permission to lump in secret FISA requests with those numbers, but it could not break out what percentage came from the secret courts. Google and Twitter essentially denounced this broad approach, calling it "a step back for users."
"The First Amendment does not permit the Government to bar Microsoft from speaking about an issue of great importance to its customers, shareholders, and the public."
Instead, Google asked the government for permission to explicitly disclose how many FISA requests it received separately from the other types of requests. Now, Microsoft is doing the same. In its filing, the company argues that it has "been the subject of intensive media coverage" over the leaks and wishes to "correct the misimpression" that it offers direct access. The company says that there is no explicit rule against "disclosing aggregated information" about FISA requests and that preventing such disclosure violates the company's First Amendment rights.
The motion was filed on June 19th, one day after Google's similar filing was first reported. Although it's not known what percentage of the 6,000 to 7,000 requests Microsoft received in the second half of 2012, presumably Microsoft is hoping to be able to tell the public that it's a very small number. As to whether it or Google will ever get that chance, that's apparently up to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Microsoft's filing says in no uncertain terms that hasn't been able to secure permission to disclose from either the FBI or the Department of Justice,