The Internet Sector calls for Greater Transparency in Requests for User Data

Alex Fowler

Mozilla is joining with over 60 leading technology companies, startups, investors, technology trade groups and public interest groups today to call on the US government to allow the release of information pertaining to national security requests for user data.

Mozilla is one of the organizers behind today’s letter. We gathered the signatures of a broad range of Internet and VC leaders for many of whom this is their first time publicly weighing in on this issue. Mozilla has also been one of the leading groups behind the StopWatching.Us campaign, which has gathered over 550,000 signatures and brought together one of the most diverse coalitions of public interest organizations ever assembled on an Internet policy topic.

We began working on an online tech sector letter shortly after new information began to surface about the state of online surveillance by the NSA. From our many discussions, there’s broad agreement that the way national security requests are being carried out have the potential to undermine innovative web technologies, from the cloud to big data to mobile, not to mention search and social. These practices put any company with user data in a position of not being able to fully live up to its privacy commitments and treating users outside the US with fewer protections and rights. We believe developers will abandon ideas for new technologies or offshore them over a risk of growing numbers of government requests and the lack of resources to defend against and process them. And for investors funding the next generation of online services, we heard that backlash from users outside the US is hardly in anyone’s best interest, let alone our nation’s. One only need to look to recent news in important emerging markets like Brazil or the resolution passed by the EU Parliament and upcoming inquiry to see the shape of things to come for our sector.

We encourage all companies dependent on a vibrant, open and transparent Internet ecosystem we can trust to sign onto today’s letter. Follow the discussion about today’s unprecedented letter and also a new White House petition on Twitter using the hashtag, #weneedtoknow.

Here’s a copy of what we sent to leaders in the Obama Administration and Congress:

July 18, 2013

We the undersigned are writing to urge greater transparency around national security-related requests by the US government to Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers for information about their users and subscribers.

First, the US government should ensure that those companies who are entrusted with the privacy and security of their users’ data are allowed to regularly report statistics reflecting:

  1. The number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legal authorities such as Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the various National Security Letter (NSL) statutes, and others;
  2. The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested under each authority; and
  3. The number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information. 
Second, the government should also augment the annual reporting that is already required by statute by issuing its own regular “transparency report” providing the same information: the total number of requests under specific authorities for specific types of data, and the number of individuals affected by each.

As an initial step, we request that the Department of Justice, on behalf of the relevant executive branch agencies, agree that Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers may publish specific numbers regarding government requests authorized under specific national security authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the NSL statutes. We further urge Congress to pass legislation requiring comprehensive transparency reporting by the federal government and clearly allowing for transparency reporting by companies without requiring companies to first seek permission from the government or the FISA Court.

Basic information about how the government uses its various law enforcement–related investigative authorities has been published for years without any apparent disruption to criminal investigations. We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government’s national security–related authorities.

This information about how and how often the government is using these legal authorities is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those authorities and their use, and to international users of US-based service providers who are concerned about the privacy and security of their communications.

Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties and human rights. We look forward to working with you to set a standard for transparency reporting that can serve as a positive example for governments across the globe.

Thank you.

Companies
AOL
Apple Inc.
CloudFlare
CREDO Mobile
Digg
Dropbox
Evoca
Facebook
Google
Heyzap
LinkedIn
Meetup
Microsoft
Mozilla
Reddit
salesforce.com
Sonic.net
Stripe
Tumblr
Twitter
Yahoo!
YouNow

Investors

Boston Common Asset Management
Domini Social Investments
F&C Asset Management Plc
New Atlantic Ventures
Union Square Ventures
Y Combinator

Nonprofit Organizations & Trade Associations
Access
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
American Society of News Editors
Americans for Tax Reform
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for Effective Government
Committee to Protect Journalists
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Computer & Communications Industry Association
The Constitution Project
Demand Progress
Electronic Frontier Foundation
First Amendment Coalition
Foundation for Innovation and Internet Freedom
Freedom to Read Foundation
FreedomWorks
Global Network Initiative
GP-Digital
Human Rights Watch
Internet Association
Liberty Coalition
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Coalition Against Censorship
New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute
OpenTheGovernment.org
Project On Government Oversight
Public Knowledge
Reporters Committee for Freedom of The Press
Reporters Without Borders
TechFreedom
Wikimedia Foundation
World Press Freedom Committee

[PDF version]