Microsoft, Google unite on lawsuit against gag orders

AFP-JIJI

Microsoft on Friday said that a battle to shed light on secret U.S. government requests for Internet user data will play out in court after failed peace talks.

Microsoft and Google filed suits in federal court in June, arguing they have a right to make public more information about requests for user data made under the auspices of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The tech titans agreed six times to extend the deadline for the government to respond to the lawsuits, allowing time for negotiations that “ended in failure,” Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a blog post.

“Today our two companies stand together. . . . We believe we have a clear right under the U.S. Constitution to share more information with the public.”

The two say they want to provide the public with better insight into the information the government is taking from them.

The issue caught fire after Edward Snowden, a former IT contractor at the National Security Agency, revealed that U.S. authorities were tapping Internet user data, often using national security letters to bar the companies from telling anyone about the requests.

U.S. officials Thursday said they will begin publishing annual tallies of national security requests for user data, but Smith said that is not enough. “For example, we believe it is vital to publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email,” he said.

He argued that, along with providing the number of requests, disclosures should provide the context for what is being sought. “We believe it’s possible to publish these figures in a manner that avoids putting security at risk.”

Internet companies have stated they release information only in response to specific court orders, and claim that reports about providing easy access to U.S. authorities are exaggerated.