US govt reaches deal with Google, Facebook on information disclosure

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The US government and leading Internet companies agreed Monday to a compromise allowing companies to make public how often they are ordered to turn over information about their customers in national security investigations.

The Justice Department announced the deal with Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., Facebook Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. Other companies are also expected to participate once the deal is approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Companies wanted to make the disclosures to alleviate public speculation and fear about their cooperation with the government, which has increased since former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about NSA’s surveillance and government digital spying.

Some of those companies signing the agreement were among several U.S. Internet businesses identified as giving the NSA access to customer data under the program known as PRISM.

The government initially opposed the companies’ request, saying it could interfere with national security investigations.

The reporting will be in very general terms. Companies will have to wait six months before releasing information about intelligence orders.

‘Positive’ first step

Technology companies and privacy advocates immediately praised the new government compromise.

While the compromise doesn’t allow companies to disclose everything they wished, and allows them to disclose more than the government originally wanted them to, both sides seemed relatively satisfied with the agreement filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has the final say.

The five companies welcomed the deal, but said more needs to be done.

“We filed our lawsuits because we believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive,” the companies said in a joint statement. “While this is a very positive step, we’ll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed.”

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