Google, Microsoft, Other Tech Giants Detail Government Data Requests Under New Relaxed Rules
Social network and email users finally have new insight into how much user data the NSA asks for from our major internet companies.
Under new federal transparency rules that allow such disclosure, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn have published the number of requests received, number of users impacted and the number that they comply with.
The new rules, announced last week, are the result of a vigorous legal battle fought by the above-mentioned companies over the right to be transparent. Although there is still ambiguity, the new rules allow companies to publicly distinguish between Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests from the NSA and National Security Letters (NSLs), administrative subpoenas used by the FBI in terrorism investigations.
Companies can now also report how many requests asked for content versus those that just asked for metadata. In some cases however, companies are only allowed to report these numbers in bands of 1,000 and in all cases they must delay their reports for at least six months and for some data, two years.
Here's a quick rundown, company-by-company:
Facebook: In a statement, Facebook said “a small fraction of one percent” of user accounts were the subject of government data requests in the last six months of 2012 and the first six months of 2013. During both periods the social network received less than 1,000 NSLs and FISA requests, both for content and metadata only. In each case less than 6,000 accounts were impacted.
In its most recent reporting period -- last July through December -- Facebook said it had received zero FISA requests altogether and less than 1,000 NSLs affecting less than 1,000 accounts. The company said it will continue to update the public on government data requests every six months.
Microsoft: Updating its government data request report for the first half of 2013, Microsoft says it has received fewer than 1,000 FISA requests affecting between 15,000 and 15,999 accounts. The software giant also said it had received fewer FISA orders for “non-content data only” affecting less than 1,000 accounts and less than 1,000 NSLs. The company also published a table that details government data requests dating back to the last half of 2011.
LinkedIn: In its updated transparency report, LinkedIn said it has received between zero and 249 national security related requests for data impacting between zero and 249 accounts during the same timespan. Like Microsoft, the professional networking company has also updated its previous reports dating back to 2011.
Google: For its part, Google has updated its transparency reports going all the way back to 2009. In its report the technology behemoth says it has received fewer than 1,000 FISA requests during every six month period since then.
The company also says it received fewer than 1,000 content requests during each six month interval. However, the table shows that with each passing year more and more account are affected. During the first half of 2009, between 2,000 and 2,999 accounts were impacted. During the first half of 2013 government data requests affected between 12,000 and 12,999 accounts.
Yahoo: In both the first and second half of 2013, Yahoo says it received less than 1,000 FISA requests for content, impacting between 30,000 and 30,999 accounts, less than 1,000 requests for metadata only, and less than 1,000 NSLs.
Benjamin Kabin is a Brooklyn-based technology journalist who specializes in security, startups, venture capital and social media.