WASHINGTON — A secret federal court should not permit communications providers to reveal how often they are ordered to turn over information about their customers in national security investigations, the government argued in papers released Wednesday.
In a filing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the government argued that allowing the companies to release such detailed information “would be invaluable to our adversaries.”
Granting such requests would provide a clear picture of where the government’s surveillance efforts are directed and how its surveillance activities change over time, the court papers stated.
Companies seeking to release the information about the orders received are Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo! Inc., Facebook Inc. and LinkedIn Corp.
The companies say they want to make the disclosures in order to correct inaccuracies in press reports and to alleviate public speculation about the scope of the companies’ cooperation with the U.S. government. The providers want to show that only a tiny fraction of their customers’ accounts have been subject to legal orders.
Following leaks about National Security Agency surveillance last June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the FBI allowed communications providers to report the number of orders they received from the government and the number of accounts affected by such orders.
However, the FBI only agreed to limited disclosure of a single, aggregate number of criminal and national security-related orders to the companies from all U.S. governmental entities, plus local and state entities.
In August, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said that he’ll release figures every year on how many top-secret court orders are issued and how many people are targeted because of them.
In its court filing the Justice Department said Clapper’s report “will not provide our adversaries with a roadmap” because the government’s reporting will not be broken down by company, and the companies’ reporting will aggregate criminal and non-criminal, content and non-content and federal, state and local surveillance.