The U.S. Justice Department is allowing tech firms to disclose a bit more detail about the number of national security orders and requests they receive, and the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests.
Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement, saying:
This action was directed by the President earlier this month in his speech on intelligence reforms. While this aggregate data was properly classified until today, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with other departments and agencies, has determined that the public interest in disclosing this information now outweighs the national security concerns that required its classification.
The move followed a lawsuit filed last year with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by Microsoft, Google and other major tech companies. The companies wanted to disclose more data on the national security requests and orders they receive.
In response to today’s announcement, the companies, which dismissed their motions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, issued a joint statement, saying:
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.
[Update: On Feb. 3, Microsoft released more information about the national security requests that it received. (The information is reported in bands of a thousand, as required by the U.S. government.)
Between January and June 2013, across all of Microsoft's services, the comopany received less than 1,000 FISA orders seeking the disclosure of customer content. Those orders related to between 15,000 and 15,999 accounts. It received fewer than 1,000 FISA orders for non-content data from less than 1,000 accounts. And the company received less than 1,000 National Security Letters covering less than 1,000 accounts.
For more details, see the blog post by Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith.]