The Washington Post and All Things D are reporting that a coalition of tech companies and civil liberties groups will ask the White House and Congress on Thursday to relax secrecy surrounding the government's requests for user data. The request will reportedly be made in a letter with 63 signatories, including several companies involved in PRISM data collection, including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and others, as well as civil liberties groups at the forefront of privacy efforts, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.
While some of the organizations involved have already individually pressured the government to shed more light on requests for user data — solicited in secret "National Security Letters" — the latest effort is represented by the broadest coalition of groups to date.
So far, "transparency reports" have offered little useful data
As The Washington Post reports, the letter will demand that the government ease restrictions on tech companies that prohibit them from disclosing the number of surveillance requests they receive from the NSA and other federal intelligence agencies. While Google and other companies routinely release transparency reports about their compliance in government requests for user data, these reports offer little useful insight about the magnitude of the government's electronic surveillance. As All Things D reports, the letter will request that companies be allowed to report the number of requests from the government for data about their users, the number of individuals, accounts, or devices subject to requests, and the number of requests for actual communications content or other personal information.
The letter comes as some lawmakers, companies, advocacy groups, and the public have placed an increasing amount of pressure on the government to disclose the nature and the extent of its surveillance programs that are said to routinely capture data on US citizens, who are suspected of no wrongdoing. Earlier today, the US House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the government's broad collection of telephone metadata, which captures information about every call placed in the United States through major telecommunications companies including Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. While the government has declassified some minor elements of corporate involvement in data collection — including Yahoo's efforts to rebuke intelligence agencies — the programs remain largely classified.
Update: A copy of the letter sent from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others, is now available online: