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Google, Facebook and other tech firms ask permission to show they're not spying with NSA

By Michael Mayday , Jun 12, 2013 08:36 PM EDT
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Google, Facebook and other companies are asking the government for permission to disclose information pertaining to national security data requests in an attempt to reassure customers that officials don't have unlimited access to personal online details.

On June 6, President Barack Obama confirmed the existence of classified programs that collect information from citizens of the United States, but called them "modest encroachments" on privacy and insisted that they're authorized by Congress.

This comes after last week's Washington Post article exposing the government's secretive PRISM surveillance program, which allows the National Security Agency to obtain data in multiple forms, including email, voice, video, pictures and social networking details.

Major social networking companies are now rushing to assure users that their information can't be randomly accessed by the NSA. Google stated on Wednesday that it delivers information over a secure FTP servers, and, on occasion, in-person, according to USA Today. Several companies denied any knowledge of the PRISM program, but they acknowledged that they do disclose information to the government when it's legally required of them.

On Monday, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller to ask for authorization to publicize their national security request numbers. Drummond's letter says that transparency will show that Google's "compliance with [the NSA's] requests falls far short of the claims being made," arguing that being denied that transparency is fueling speculation that Google is allowing the government unlimited access to any and all of their users personal data.

Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook have all explicitly stated that they don't allow the government direct access to their systems. Drummond says that releasing the data collection information will "serve the public interest without harming national security."

General counsel of Facebook Ted Ullyot agrees, saying that the company "would welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook around the world a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond." Twitter - notably absent from the PRISM program - and Microsoft have also chimed in to support Google's efforts.

An unnamed official from the Justice Department says that they've received and are reviewing Google's request, but as of Wednesday there'd been no reply.

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