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Tech Firms Planning Highly Irate Letter To Government Requesting Transparency 139

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-sir-I-don't-like-it dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "a 'broad alliance' of 63 technology companies and civil liberties organizations plan on demanding more transparency about U.S. government surveillance programs, according to a new report in AllThingsD. Those companies and organizations will reportedly ask the government to allow them to report more accurate information about user-data requests. At the moment, federal agencies forbid Google, Microsoft, and other tech vendors from reporting more than a broad numerical range; for example, Google might announce as part of its Transparency Report that it received between 0-999 National Security Letters (issued by agencies as part of national security investigations) in 2009. 'We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government's national security–related authorities," reads a portion of a letter that will be reportedly published July 19 and signed by all those tech companies. "This information about how and how often the government is using these legal authorities is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those authorities and their use.' This is all continuing fallout from Edward Snowden's leaks of top-secret documents alleging that the NSA maintains a program called PRISM that allegedly siphons personal information from the databases of the world's largest tech companies. Ever since, those companies (which have all denied participation in PRISM) have been anxious to show the world that they only give the government as little user data as possible. This new push for more 'transparency' plays to that strategy, and the stakes couldn't be higher—if consumers and businesses lose faith in their IT providers' ability to preserve privacy, the latter's very existence could be at risk."
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Tech Firms Planning Highly Irate Letter To Government Requesting Transparency

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  • ...color me skeptical, but that looks more like PR damage-control tactics since they very well played lapdog. I maybe would have bought it if their reaction was immediate.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      ...color me skeptical, but that looks more like PR damage-control tactics since they very well played lapdog.
      I maybe would have bought it if their reaction was immediate.

      So what you're saying is that maybe they should have tried fighting the warrants? Maybe should have taken legal action so they could legally disclose information about the programs?
      Guess what- they did all that. You just weren't paying attention because there wasn't a sensational media story about it.

      • Guess what- they did all that. You just weren't paying attention because there wasn't a sensational media story about it.

        Right, and isn't that the whole problem? They couldn't make it public. They couldn't make a big deal of it.
        I wish it were illegal to ever squelch the fact that you are being squelched.

  • by MetalliQaZ (539913) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:19PM (#44323025)

    ... could we trust them?

  • Did samzenpus just get a dictionary somehow?
  • Next they'll haul out the cushy chair.

  • better idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by slashmydots (2189826) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:27PM (#44323109)
    Never wait for the government to do something. Just release the data and see if anyone has the balls to convict them of something. I bet not.
    • by swillden (191260)

      Just release the data and see if anyone has the balls to convict them of something. I bet not.

      Ah, you bet not. Well, that decides it then. The CEOs of these corporations need have no fear of being thrown in prison if you "bet not".

      Most of the time, corporate actions produce consequences that fall on the corporation as a whole. But in criminal matters, it's not uncommon that the corporate veil is pierced and the individual decisionmakers are prosecuted personally.

      • Not if it's done en masse. How many bankers are in jail? That's right - if these 63 biggies decided to dump their data it could be considered to be a form of protest against the Government. Citizens can protest, and since corporations are "people" they have the right to protest as well. Ok, it's all BS, but it was worth a shot.
      • But in criminal matters, it's not uncommon that the corporate veil is pierced and the individual decisionmakers are prosecuted personally.

        Would that be like the fraud that brought about the financial services crisis or more like the trillions of dollars of drug money laundered by the big banks?

        • by swillden (191260)
          No, you don't get it. Stealing from people is fine. Screwing with the government, however...
    • One area where I *want* to see monolithic mega-corps collude -- to disclose what private information they were forced to provide to the NSA. What's the NSA gonna do, shut down America's entire tech sector, thereby crippling their very own operations?
    • Never wait for the government to do something. Just release the data and see if anyone has the balls to convict them of something. I bet not.

      It is a better idea, if they really want something to change. Begging for permission almost never creates change in the social order. If anybody has an hour and a half, watch this lecture [youtube.com] about the 'Renegade History of the US' and how the beggars weren't the ones who changed things.

      That said, I'm doubtful they'll do more because it's never been the corporations who i

  • by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:30PM (#44323125)
    So just how many tech companies will end up mired in this BS? A bunch of startups pop into business with security products that the NSA want's backdoors into. So they are contacted and inside info is exchanged, or perhaps even access info of some kind. Before long there are hundreds of developers from these startups all knowledgeable about what the NSA is doing regarding data collection. And we have thousands of NSA employees and contractors in on it too. So just who are all these guys keeping their secrets from if half the world knows about them?
  • I do not think that word means what you think it means.

  • ....if all 63 published the info anyway? Safety in numbers, yes....

    • by Pseudonym (62607)

      Then the next cushy billion-dollar government contract would go to SAIC instead of them.

      • by Rick Zeman (15628)

        Then the next cushy billion-dollar government contract would go to SAIC instead of them.

        Uhh, I don't think government contractors are the people clamoring for disclosure, rather the tech companies themselves.

    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @08:36PM (#44323533)

      Keep in mind, that data is useless. The real threat is that the NSA likely has equipment redirecting data out of these companies without their direct knowledge. They probably even have staff working there to help facilitate their data collection. The NSA could sink any of these companies at the flick of a switch. So the idea that they're going to threaten the NSA with anything is rather silly. Also, they are likely the recipients of a lot of corporate secrets the NSA pulls in from around the world.

      My bet is these companies said something like "Um... NSA? Yea... we're looking pretty bad over here... would it be ok if... I mean... could we send a strongly worded letter.... and uh...."

      NSA: "No problem... we'll even write it for you! Now put that dress back on, we want you to look pretty for this next part..."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:35PM (#44323153)
    I don't understand. I don't care about the occasional request for data. Transparency would be good, but it's not the key issue. What I am worried about is the claim that the NSA has a splitter so that they can siphon off all the data they need. Google and Microsoft claim that the NSA does not have a backdoor, and does not have "direct" access. But if they're splitting off all the data, and have been given the encryption keys, isn't this all a bit irrelevant?

    The only time they'd need to make a request is when:
    a) The data is from before they've been collecting
    b) The data in their database is not yet nicely formatted for easy access
    c) They are missing the encryption keys, for some reason

    Isn't the splitter the big worry? And that these requests are just a small part? Combined with the fact that I'm not an American, this means they can collect a huge database of my personal data, and look at it any time, without asking anyone for permission. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what's going on?

    • by jythie (914043)
      The splitter is a worry yes, but the NSA is not known for sharing its data with other groups.. for that matter various governmental bodies are generally terrible at helping each other, so besides the NSA they also have to deal with requests from any number of other investigative sources like the FBI and the nebulous 'homeland security', not to mention state and local authorities.
    • by jdogalt (961241)

      I don't understand.

      No, you do understand

      isn't this all a bit irrelevant?

      relative to whay you suggest is the main concern- yup. it's called propaganda. nothing like the smell of it in the morning.

      Isn't the splitter the big worry?

      Yup. +1 for listening to the logical parts of your brain.

      You might have fun reading about the crusade I've been on for the last 9 or 10 months- (and longer really)

      Right To Serve -- http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3929983&cid=44170993 [slashdot.org]

      • by Arker (91948)
        Thanks for what you are doing. Many may not understand, or see the connection, but I certainly do.
        • by jdogalt (961241)

          Thanks for your thanks. It really means a lot. 11 more days till I get my first on the record answer from Google... I so hope they just admit I was right all along. But if they don't, you and the dozen or two others I've had see my point along the way will definitely make me feel a little less insane. It means a lot. Time will tell...

      • by turp182 (1020263)

        Thanks for your efforts.

        Is there a link to your Right to Serve effort for updates as the deadline for a response from Google is very close?

        I figure there might be some legal site that tracks such things (or the states DOJ site).

    • It might not be real. I can see the reason companies want to clarify the process is because they feel it has been misconstrued. The public opinion seems to be the "splitter" thing, like the NSA can just get any and all information at the companies on a whim, without telling anyone. So people are mad, no surprise. However what if that's not the case, if the companies are telling the truth? Maybe it is something more like the NSA has a line to these companies, and can make requests and the companies, upon dec

    • by joh (27088)

      I don't understand. I don't care about the occasional request for data. Transparency would be good, but it's not the key issue. What I am worried about is the claim that the NSA has a splitter so that they can siphon off all the data they need. Google and Microsoft claim that the NSA does not have a backdoor, and does not have "direct" access. But if they're splitting off all the data, and have been given the encryption keys, isn't this all a bit irrelevant?

      A "splitter" isn't all that easy here. What they would get with a splitter is an endless stream of often highly complex API data, HTTP from web apps and other data over a dozen protocols. The NSA would basically need to replicate all the systems of Facebook, Google, MS etc. to make any sense out of that.

      I think the "no direct" access just means that the NSA has some equipment in these companies that they can control from the outside (via a web interface or so) which can select users and keywords to sieve th

  • by faffod (905810) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:57PM (#44323265)
    These large corporations are claiming to have the people's interests in mind, yet they are only asking for a very narrow change that really doesn't affect the status quo. If they really are concerned with the extent of the surveillance, why don't they use their extensive lobbying clout to propose actual changes to the laws that would require transparency to the entire process starting with requiring judicial approval for any monitoring.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think they key issue we're becoming aware of is that the NSA and related security agencies operate outside of the govt. They clearly operate outside the oversight of congress and I'm starting to think they don't take orders from the president either (The executive branch does take them seriously)

      This, of course, means that they operate outside the influence of these big companies, which a can only lobby congress and the president.

      My fear is that the NSA operates at the behest of the NSA and the private co

    • by Arker (91948)

      "If they really are concerned with the extent of the surveillance, why don't they use their extensive lobbying clout to propose actual changes to the laws"

      There are ample reasons to suspect they are posing here and do not actually care about this - but you are still missing the mark. Proposing changes to the laws is silly. This crap is already against the law here and has been since 1776. The problem isnt that the law allows it, the problem is that we have a government that thinks it is above the law.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Transparency brings the hope of legality or the reality retroactive immunity.
      10's of people from legal and upper middle management pleading the fifth will make for bad optics one day.
      Having to remove funny videos of your own congressional chat from your own branded upload site is bad optics too.
      You have a lot of cubicle staff in the USA who kept a lot of secrets who are now wondering if they will legally covered.
      You have a lot of cubicle staff with multinational links who kept a lot of secrets who are n
    • These large corporations are claiming to have the people's interests in mind, yet they are only asking for a very narrow change that really doesn't affect the status quo. If they really are concerned with the extent of the surveillance, why don't they use their extensive lobbying clout to propose actual changes to the laws that would require transparency to the entire process starting with requiring judicial approval for any monitoring.

      Right now, these companies are blamed for the rumored amount of monitoring. They want to be blamed for the true amount of monitoring instead. Reducing the amount of monitoring doesn't help them, if the rumors stay the same. And you don't know how much or little they have pushed back on monitoring, because they are not allowed to tell you, and they want permission to tell you.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For a moment there when I read the headline I thought the 63 companies were irate because the government wanted transparency on H1-B Visa requests...

  • transnational? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jythie (914043) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @07:59PM (#44323285)
    Given how good they are at avoiding US taxes and US regulations by having branches and shell companies off shore, I imagine if they really wanted to break the orders they could find a way to do it and legally be outside US jurisdiction.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      I don't think they bother with the gitmo rhetorics anymore. they could just as well claim that it's not under us jurisdiction on us soil.. and the claim us jurisdiction on foreign soil all the time for hacking.

  • face saving (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @08:08PM (#44323361) Homepage Journal

    "They are violating our rights, spying on everyone and forcing us to cooperate in all of that." - "I got it! Let's send them a really stern letter!"

    This is PR damage-control, nothing else. They're trying to create the impression they were unwilling accomplices.

    • This is PR damage-control, nothing else. They're trying to create the impression they were unwilling accomplices.

      What exactly would you do if you were the CEO of Google, Apple or Microsoft, if you cared about your users' rights, at least when violating your users' rights gives you no benefits and if rumors about these violations hurt your company, and you didn't have any intention to go to jail?

      • by Tom (822)

        Right, because falling over backwards and giving in is the only reasonable choice when someone pressures you.

        If I were the CEO of an international corporation with a budget that dwarfs several small countries, I would have enough legal experts on staff to check the law very carefully and make a stand when they cross the line.

        I would also understand that the last thing they would do to force through a secret and very likely highly illegal program is jailing a public person.

        No one expects anyone to risk being

      • by khchung (462899)

        This is PR damage-control, nothing else. They're trying to create the impression they were unwilling accomplices.

        What exactly would you do if you were the CEO of Google, Apple or Microsoft, if you cared about your users' rights, at least when violating your users' rights gives you no benefits and if rumors about these violations hurt your company, and you didn't have any intention to go to jail?

        What could you do if you were the CEO of a big company threatened by the government where you operate?

        You would relocate your company HQ to another country. Simple as that.

        Sending a strongly worded letter is a pure PR move. A feasibility study on relocating is what they should be doing if they are serious.

        • You would relocate your company HQ to another country. Simple as that.

          And where would that be? Keep in mind, it will need to be a country that:

          * Has adequate infrastructure support (reliable electricity, good telecommunication lines, and so on).

          * Has a deep pool of educated talent to recruit your support staff from.

          * is a place your executives will not be unhappy to relocate to.

          * since you're moving to get away from government surveillance, it can't be a place where you are going to be subjected to a US le

  • WTF editors? Edit!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So far Microsoft, Yahoo and Google have all missed their earnings estimates for the quater. Since the quatr ended only about three weeks into the Snowden thing, this looks like a bunch of tech companies pleading with the government to let them respond to a PR disaster that is hurting sales.

  • Dump it all (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rob_Bryerton (606093) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @08:46PM (#44323591) Homepage
    You want some transparency? So do we. Dump it all. Dump fucking everything. Expose this piece of shit government utterly and completely for every last request, letter and shady program.

    You spineless twits, you have utterly and completely shattered the trust you had. Fuck you and fuck your cloud; I hope this exposure of your complicity with the criminal organizations in D.C. costs you billions in lost business. I don't care how you do it; leak information, "oops we were hacked", whatever. Dump it all.

    The fact that there is 1 person, 1 guy out of >300 million in this country who has the balls to stand up speaks volumes to who the true enemy and threat to the American people, hell the people of Earth FFS, are: the U.S. Federal government.

    So either these spineless companies are trying to save face, or Snowden has still got some really juicy dirt left up his sleeve.

    I really, really hope it's the latter.
  • by tom229 (1640685) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @09:12PM (#44323749)
    I won't host any of my data, or the data of the companies and individuals I consult and work for, with any company in the United States, and it will take much more than an "irate letter" to gain my trust back.
  • “This is the most transparent administration in history,” Obama said during a Google Plus “Fireside” Hangout.

  • What's the point? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Boltronics (180064) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @10:49PM (#44324223) Homepage

    I like that this is happening, but I can't see it making any difference in itself. Yahoo fought in secret courts to protect user data, and lost. Even if US companies are trying to do the right thing, we can't trust them because we can't trust the US government.

    If companies had the right to come out and say "we only gave the US data this information because we had no choice", would you still want to deal with them? The company might win sympathy points, but that clearly doesn't mean we can trust it. This is particularly true for end users outside of the US.

  • How do you think the government got these companies to sign these agreements in the first place?

    They were given contracts or their existing contracts were threatened if they didn't sign.

    Now that its out in the open their conventional customers are threatening to stop buying their products which would spell doom for most of those companies.

    Its about money. And when push comes to shove, the government can't afford to replace the private sector customer's lost with government bids. And that the deal is likely

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      contracts? hah hah hah.

      who needs contracts if you can bribe(processing fees) and threaten with jail.

      • Threatening with jail wouldn't get them anywhere. They'd call their lawyers

        These companies were made to agree either because they were paid or guilted into it. Remember, many companies might have been very cooperative to help track terrorists in the wake of 9/11. Most Americans were outraged by those attacks and what pervaded was a feeling of powerlessness. If you walked up to any of those people and offered them a way to make a difference most would have said "yes." It is not a coincidence that military re

  • 0. Re watch All the President's Men (1976).
    1. Reach out to your contacts, contacts from a few years ago, older journalists from a few years ago who had many journalists friends with quality tech contacts.
    1.5 Offer to share the fame.
    1.6 Read up on US secretly collecting two months of press telephone records.
    2. 99.98% of calls might end with a click.
    3. Wait for the few calls where people that just have to bully, argue, threaten for 5-100 mins.
    4. Let ex staff vent with filled ample justification r
  • by buck-yar (164658) on Friday July 19, 2013 @06:10AM (#44325675)

    I will never again trust another company.

    Whenever I use a company's service, I will assume they (have):

    1. Given the govt a backdoor
    2. Sold all my private data to whoever will pay
    3. Track me with cookies etc best they can.
    4. Given the govt all my passwords (maybe even sold my passwords to customers)

    • by turp182 (1020263)

      I use cash a lot more these days (up to several hundred dollars at a time, above that I appreciate the credit card protections - my debit card only feels up ATM machines). Prevents retail purchase tracking and related data loss (a local grocery chain recently had a data breach and my wife's company and personal card had purchases made with the cards in question).

      I'm not concerned about ATM withdrawal records, those are just accounting entries with no associated data.

      Internet traffic mostly goes through a p

  • Surreptitiously shares user data for feds.
    Only throws a fit about it after being caught.

    As far as I'm concerned they are all in bed together and equally guilty of circumventing the law.

  • "Please stop us doing what were told to do!" *


    * and, occasionaly, making sick fucking bank on our bills for 'services rendered'.
  • ...who has a flashback to Team America with that headline?

    Tech Industry: I'm sorry, but we must be firm with you. Stop spying, or else...

    NSA: Or else what?

    Tech Industry: Or else we will be very very angry with you... and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are.

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