DoJ rejects demand to reveal spy agency requests

DoJ rejects demand to reveal spy agency requests
The US Department of Justice is opposing requests from technology companies to disclose demands it receives for user information – including from US spy agencies – according to secret surveillance court papers released on Wednesday.

Although surveillance agencies have made promises of transparency, the US government is still rejecting requests to provide more thorough details on the data requests. The federal government and tech giants such as Google Inc. have been embroiled in negotiations for months over requests to provide the data.

The court papers were filed in the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court), traditionally used to exercise restraint over intelligence abuses. 

“The companies assert that the information they seek to disclose is not classified, disregarding the harms to national security the proposed disclosures would likely cause,” reads the document.

“The companies’ narrow focus on individual targets ignores that the disclosures would risk revealing the Government’s collection capabilities as they presently exist and as they develop in the future,” the argument continues.

Among the companies included were also the Microsoft Corporation, Yahoo!Inc., Facebook Inc., and LinkedIn Corporation. 

Tech companies have been battling for greater transparency “given the important public policy issues at stake,” according to Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, Richard Salgado, and the director of public policy and government affairs, Pablo Chavez, who wrote about the necessity in a blog post last month. Yahoo and Facebook made similar petitions to release FISA information.

The internet giants themselves have not been blameless in spy-schemes. It was revealed in documents published in June by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, that for seven years the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been using a warrantless web surveillance system named PRISM.

It has a near-limitless ability to spy on anyone’s phone calls, e-mails, video chats, search history and more, with such major Internet giants as Google, Apple and Facebook being complicit in the scheme.

As a result, the revelations have prompted the companies to seek the ability to make further revelations about how many of their users are involved in surveillance demands, and the total number of mandatory requests for data under specific laws.

They have been arguing that public debate over government surveillance justifies further disclosure of information, citing a First Amendment right. Prohibitions on company disclosures are considered too broad-based and the publication of FISA information would demonstrate this.