U.S. Tech Giants Demand More Transparency Over Data Requests

Mike O'Brien

Google, Facebook and Microsoft have called on the U.S. government to allow them to disclose the security requests they receive for handing over user data.

The request comes following reports that said U.S. authorities had direct access to the servers of nine major tech firms, including Google and Apple.

The U.S. government has confirmed that the surveillance programme exists, but it is facing increasing pressure to end the practice. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, challenging the legality of the programme.

Google has denied that the government has access to its servers, but added that nondisclosure rules of such requests only "fuel speculation."

In protest more than 80 rights groups and internet companies have come together to launch a website, StopWatching.Us, which is demanding that Congress launch a full investigation.

The site is supported by the World Wide Web Foundation, a group founded by internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee.

Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond has written to the U.S. Attorney General asking for permission to publish "aggregate numbers of national security requests, including Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) disclosures".

He said in the letter: "Google's numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide."

Microsoft said that greater transparency on the requests "would help the community understand and debate these important issues.''

Ted Ullyot, Facebook's general counsel, said the social networking leader wants to provide "a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond."

The surveillance program, known as Prism, made headlines last week after a series of leaks by former CIA employee Edward Snowden.

Mr. Snowden told the Guardian newspaper that secret government operatives had the power to tap into anyone's emails at any time.

Major American technology firms have denied giving U.S. authorities unrestricted access.