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Internet companies call for greater transparency from secret court

Internet companies including Apple, Google, and Yahoo called on the government to create greater transparency around secret court information requests

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The National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md.
Major Internet companies called for greater transparency around national security requests in a joint letter on July 18, 2013.

Charles Dharapak/ AP Photo/ File

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A group of twenty-two Internet companies, civil liberties groups, and private investors joined forces, urging “greater transparency around national security-related requests by the US government.”

The request is the first joint statement made by Internet companies implicated in the PRISM surveillance program. Its signatories include AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, as well as advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“Having a unified front will really require the administration to take note,” says Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Nate Cardozo. “Obama says he welcomes a debate [on data collection] ... but the debate we are having now is not an informed debate because the Department of Justice is preventing the American people from knowing what is going on."

Notably absent from the list of signatories were all major telephone companies, such as Verizon and AT&T, which also participated in the NSA data collection program, according to secret documents published by the Washington Post and the Guardian.  

The first step to having a robust public debate is letting the public know how much data the government is collecting as part of its surveillance programs, according to the letter. If the Obama administration does not take action to make court proceedings more transparent, the letter demands Congress pass legislation that would require comprehensive transparency reporting by the federal government. This would mean that Internet companies would not have to seek permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before publishing the number of FISA requests they received.

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