Microsoft has been one of the companies that has pushed for the US government to allow tech firms to reveal how many requests they get under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.Now that the policy has been changed, companies are hurrying to give out the data to their users, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook.
“As a result of that litigation and after lengthy discussions, the Government recently agreed for the first time to permit technology companies to publish data about FISA orders. While there remain some constraints on what we can publish (more details on that below), we are now able to present a comprehensive picture of the types of requests that we receive from the U.S. Government pursuant to national security authorities,” writes Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft.
Given the fact that the US government is forcing companies to disclose request numbers in bands of a thousand, the data unveiled by tech firms doesn’t really reveal too much.
According to Microsoft’s updated transparency report, for each six-month period between July 2011 and June 2013, the company received between 0 and 999 orders seeking disclosure of content and just as many seeking out metadata.
While the requests made for non-content data affected up to 999 people each semester, the demands for personal content (such as emails, instant messages, stored files) impacted a lot more accounts. The smallest number of users affected by the government requests was between 11,000 and 11,999, while the largest one ranges between 16,000 and 16,999.
“First, while our customers number hundreds of millions, the accounts affected by these orders barely reach into the tens of thousands. This obviously means that only a fraction of a percent of our users are affected by these orders. In short, this means that we have not received the type of bulk data requests that are commonly discussed publicly regarding telephone records. This is a point we’ve publicly been making in a generalized way since last summer, and it’s good finally to have the ability to share concrete data,” writes Smith.
Of course, as media reports on the NSA scandal have indicated thus far, it’s not exactly the agency’s habit to ask for permission.
Regardless, Microsoft promises to continue to push for more transparency, as all other tech companies have done so far, hoping to ultimately be allowed to reveal more exact numbers.