[JURIST] Yahoo filed suit [press release] in the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official website] on Monday demanding the right to disclose the number of user data requests made by the US government under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text]. Last week Yahoo [corporate website] joined Google and Microsoft in publishing a transparency report [report], which details all government data requests from January 1, 2013, through June 30, 2013. However, US law prohibits organizations from disclosing the number of requests under specific national security statutes. General Counsel Ron Bell said:
We believe that the US Government’s important responsibility to protect public safety can be carried out without precluding Internet companies from sharing the number of national security requests they may receive. Ultimately, withholding such information breeds mistrust and suspicion—both of the United States and of companies that must comply with government legal directives.
The government recently released [JURIST report] annual aggregate data about its requests for phone logs and Internet chats. However, Bell said that “The United States should lead the world when it comes to transparency, accountability, and respect of civil liberties and human rights. … Granting our petition for greater transparency around national security requests for user data is a critical second step.”
Revelations surrounding US government surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In July the FISC granted a motion [JURIST report] by Yahoo to declassify a 2008 FISC judgment that required the company to comply with government requests for user information under the FISA, as well as any actual Yahoo metadata collected by the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] pursuant to the 2008 FISC order. Earlier in July civil liberties groups filed [JURIST report] an amicus curiae brief in the FISC supporting efforts by Google and Microsoft to publish data concerning how many times the government invoked federal law to request user information for national security purposes. Also in July a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California rejected a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] a lawsuit alleging the NSA illegally surveilled “millions of ordinary Americans” in the wake of 9/11. In July the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed an emergency petition [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court challenging the NSA’s telephone record surveillance program. In June The Guardian reported [JURIST report] that the NSA is collecting call data from Verizon customers under a top secret court order. Also in June Several US lawmakers called [JURIST report] for a review of the government’s surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring and a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal. The US government has charged [JURIST report] former government contractor Snowden with espionage for leaking top secret documents, according to a sealed criminal complaint filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.