Yahoo Provides Most Info to U.S. Government among Major Tech Companies on Security Inquiries

By Ed Silverstein February 05, 2014

Last year’s data on tech companies and security inquiries showed that Yahoo provided the most content from more accounts to authorities during the first half of 2013. Yahoo recently reported it released content from between 30,000 and 30,999 accounts during the half-year period as provided under the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

For other companies, the number of national security orders for content between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2013, was: Microsoft between 15,000 and 15,999 accounts; Google between 9,000 and 9,999 accounts; Facebook between 5,000 and 5,999 accounts; Apple between 0 and 249 accounts; and LinkedIn between 0 and 249 accounts.

The information comes as Internet providers can now disclose more to the public about U.S. government requests on security issues. Requests are reported in ranges, rather than in exact numbers, and FISA requests are released after six months’ time – under the new federal policy.

“As always, Yahoo will continue to protect the privacy of our users and to ensure our ability to defend it,” according to a recent statement released by Ron Bell, general counsel at Yahoo, and Aaron Altschuler, associate general counsel, for Law Enforcement and Security, at Yahoo. “This includes advocating strenuously for meaningful reform around government surveillance, demanding that government requests be made through lawful means and for lawful purposes, and fighting government requests that we deem unclear, improper, overbroad, or unlawful.”

Apple also released a statement in response to the new government policy. “We believe strongly that our customers have the right to understand how their personal information is being handled, and we are pleased the government has developed new rules that allow us to more accurately report law enforcement orders and national security orders in the U.S.,” according to the statement released by Apple. “We work hard to deliver the most secure hardware and software in the world and we will continue to provide our customers with the best privacy protections available.”

The options the government gave the companies were either:

  • Disclose the number of FISA demands for account content; FISA demands for non-content data; and National Security Letters (NSLs) received.
  • Or, provide the total for all national security-related requests received, grouping together FISA court orders and NSLs.

  In explaining the new rules, The BBC explained FISA orders for disclosure of non-content data includes metadata, which relates to a communication instead of what was said or written in a statement. Examples are the "to" and "from" in an email, or the location from where it was sent.

Also, The BBC reported how several tech companies want U.S. government reporting rules relaxed more. "We still believe more transparency is needed so everyone can better understand how surveillance laws work and decide whether or not they serve the public interest," Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director, said. "Specifically, we want to disclose the precise numbers and types of requests we receive, as well as the number of users they affect in a timely way."

The National Security Agency’s (NSA) phone metadata collection program has come under criticism, and President Barack Obama wants to restrict it. Yet, many U.S. and foreign leaders complain his efforts fail to go far enough.

Microsoft wants to see changes, too. "Despite the president's reform efforts and our ability to publish more information, there has not yet been any public commitment by either the US or other governments to renounce the attempted hacking of internet companies," Brad Smith, executive vice president and general counsel of Microsoft, said in a recent blog post. "We believe the Constitution requires that our government seek information from American companies within the rule of law. We'll therefore continue to press for more on this point in collaboration with others across our industry."

Many revelations about the controversial surveillance methods were made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is now living in Russia, but leaked many classified documents before he fled. The extent of the program and methods used concerned many users of tech sites and social media, who expressed concern about the possible involvement on the part of companies. The companies say they are only following the law, and give priority to their subscribers’ privacy. Without those commitments, such companies could risk losing subscribers who worry about confidentiality.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

TechZone360 Contributor

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