The government has reached a settlement with several of the nation's biggest Internet companies (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Apple) which had (to various degrees) to be able to reveal more information on how many data requests they receive from government. While the government has allowed increased disclosure on national security letters (NSLs, or gag letters), companies have been restricted to only stating a range of numbers of such letters they've received (see Verizon's recent transparency report
The government has refused
to allow companies to reveal the number of FISA court requests they receive -- until now. The Wall Street Journal
notes that a new agreement struck between these companies and the Obama Administration would allow them to reveal FISA court requests in broad ranges, much like NSL reports. Transparency fans and civil liberties groups argue the agreement doesn't go far enough
"Asking the public and policymakers to try to judge the appropriateness of the government’s surveillance practices based on a single, combined, rounded number is like asking a doctor to diagnose a patient’s shadow: only the grossest and most obvious problem, if even that, will be ever be evident."
Granted there's a bunch of other problematic caveats included in the agreement, such as the fact that a company can't (as with NSL reports) reveal the actual number of customers impacted, they have to only reveal the number of "customer selectors targeted," which could include multiple customers. There's also a provision stating that companies less than two years old are still entirely banned from revealing requests
, presumably to give the NSA some time to analyze and prepare for emerging communications services.
All in all, the agreement is much like the recent Obama NSA "reforms
," in that it's a very tiny step forward thanks to the Snowden leaks, though impossible to verify the benefit of without greater transparency -- the likes of which will likely only truly come from another whistle blower.