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Facebook, Microsoft allowed to reveal more about government data requests

Facebook, Microsoft, and Google have lobbied the Obama administration to loosen their gag orders on national security orders. Facebook says it received more than 9,000 requests for user data from local and federal officials in the last six months of 2012.

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Facebook's top attorney says that after a week of negotiations with US security officials, the company is allowed to make new revelations about government orders for user data.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File

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Facebook and Microsoft Corp. representatives said that after negotiations with national security officials their companies have been given permission to make new but still very limited revelations about government orders to turn over user data.

The announcements Friday night come at the end of a week when Facebook, Microsoft and Google, normally rivals, had jointly pressured the Obama administration to loosen their legal gag on national security orders.

Those actions came after Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old American who works as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, revealed to The Guardian newspaper the existence of secret surveillance programs that gathered Americans' phone records and other data. The companies did not link their actions to Snowden's leaks.

Ted Ullyot, Facebook's general counsel, said in a statement that Facebook is only allowed to talk about total numbers and must give no specifics. But he said the permission it has received is still unprecedented, and the company was lobbying to reveal more.

Using the new guidelines, Ullyot said Facebook received between 9,000 and 10,000 government requests from all government entities from local to federal in the last six months of 2012, on topics including missing children investigations, fugitive tracking and terrorist threats. The requests involved the accounts of between 18,000 and 19,000 Facebook users.

The companies were not allowed to make public how many orders they received from a particular agency or on a particular subject. But the numbers do include all national security related requests including those submitted via national security letters and under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which companies had not previously been allowed to reveal.

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