Tech Giants Dump Data in Trust-Rebuilding Bid

June 16, 2013 – In The News
E-Commerce Times

Scott Vernick was quoted in E-Commerce Times article “Tech Giants Dump Data in Trust-Rebuilding Bid.” While the full text can be found in the June 16, 2013 issue of E-Commerce Times, a synopsis is noted below.

After days of negotiations, the U.S. government gave tech giants permission to publish more detail about their participation in the PRISM surveillance program. Companies including Facebook, Apple and Microsoft have shared information surrounding data requests in hopes that the transparency will reinforce how infrequently the information is requested on national security grounds.

Facebook reported that for a six-month period ending December 31, 2012, the total number of user-data requests it received from government entities in the United States -- including local, state and federal levels and both criminal and national security-related requests -- was between 9,000 and 10,000. Requests ranged from local sheriffs trying to find a missing child to national security officials investigating a terrorist threat.

Microsoft reported it received 6,000 to 7,000 requests over the same time period, and, like Facebook, all levels of the government requested information, including classified requests.

All three companies are pushing for permission to reveal more information about PRISM, which is a classified program.

"While they tend to have a mixed record on consumer privacy issues, tech companies most often put their users first on the subject of government-related inquiries that impact personal privacy," according to Scott Vernick.

"The push by Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others to release data about the number of requests by the NSA under FISA, or the number of National Security Letters, lets the public know about the scope of the NSA's activities," Vernick explained. "Pushing for the release of this data," he concluded, "tends to paint these companies as supporters of transparency and reluctant participants in the government's broad surveillance activities."