Major tech companies that until now were under a gag order about NSA data collection can now publicly disclose the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests they receive for customer data in a given year.
The joint statement made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Yahoo the right to release the total number of users affected by FISA requests, as well as to announce FISA requests in increments of 250 or 1,000.
“The declassification reflects the Executive Branch’s continuing commitment to making information about the Government’s intelligence activities publicly available where appropriate and is consistent with ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States,” the statement read.
The deal also applies to FISA requests made to phone companies such AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. There is a catch, though: The new order also institutes a two-year buffer for any new FISA requests before the companies can reveal the information, to give law enforcement agencies time to act on the data before it’s public.
The declassification order comes less than two weeks after President Barack Obama’s call for reform of NSA surveillance practices, and Holder stated that additional steps will be taken in the coming weeks to fully implement the president’s reforms.
Apple, Google and Microsoft, among other companies, have fought NSA data requests in court several times over the past year and met with White House officials on the matter. Along with five other companies, they also formed the Reform Government Surveillance group last December.
Apple responded Monday with a statement called “Update on National Security and Law Enforcement Orders,” and joined a statement released by Microsoft (along with Google, LinkedIn and Yahoo) withdrawing their lawsuits against the FISA court. The statement read:
“We filed our lawsuits because we believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive. We’re pleased the Department of Justice has agreed that we and other providers can disclose this information. While this is a very positive step, we’ll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed.”