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U.S. Tech Companies, Rights Groups Push Lawmakers For More Surveillance Disclosure

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, July 18 2013

A group of 22 tech companies, six investment management companies, and dozens of rights groups on Thursday demanded that they be allowed to disclose more detailed information about law enforcement requests for user information in the wake of The Guardian's revelations that the National Security Agency is actively scouring the telephonic and Internet communications of users worldwide.

Specifically, the groups want Internet, telephone and Web-based service providers to be able to tell the public about how many government requests for user information that they receive under various legal authorities, such as the business records section of the USA PATRIOT Act, and under foreign surveillance law.

They also want to be allowed to disclose the number of individuals, accounts and devices that were accessed by law enforcement authorities, and under what legal authority, as well as the number of demands for the contents of any user communications, and the legal basis upon which those demands were made.

The letter, which was addressed to President Obama and the leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the leaders of the relevant congressional committees, was signed by AOL, Apple, CREDO Mobile, Digg, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sonic.net, Tumblr, Twitter, Yahoo! and others.

The 26 non-profits and trade associations include digital rights groups, such as the Center for Democracy and Technology, conservative groups, such as Americans for Tax Reform, and others, such as the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the Internet Association.

The letter is the latest high-profile effort to press the Obama Administration to establish better accountability standards into its national security surveillance scheme, which, as several members of Congress noted in Wednesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing, is governed by secret laws and secret courts.

Both Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) also sent a letter with a similar request to Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Tuesday. Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! have all individually sent letters to Holder with the same requests.

Separately, the Center for Democracy and Technology started a social media campaign" dubbed "We Need to Know," to get members of the public to sign a White House petition to persuade the administration to enable this level of disclosure from the tech companies.

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