Tech Industry Rallies Around Bills To Increase Surveillance Transparency

The Telecommunications Law Resource Center is the most comprehensive reference and news platform for communications law, covering broadcasting, cable, broadband, telephony and wireless;...

By Alexei Alexis

Oct. 1 --A broad coalition of organizations, including leading U.S. technology companies, has urged Congress to take prompt action on legislation to increase transparency around government surveillance activities.

In a Sept. 30 letter to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, the coalition offered support for pending bills that would allow companies to publish statistics on surveillance orders they have received from the government in the name of national security.

“We urge the Committees to hold hearings on the issue of surveillance transparency as a prelude to the markup of these bills,” said the letter, which was signed by dozens of organizations, including Internet giants such as Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Facebook Inc., Yahoo! Inc., Twitter, LinkedIn, AOL, and Apple Inc., as well as trade associations and public interest groups.

Companies Push Back Against NSA Reports

Several of the companies that signed the letter have been pushing back against reports saying that they have given the National Security Agency unfettered access to private Internet communications under a controversial surveillance program known as PRISM. However, the companies say there are currently restrictions on what they can reveal to the public on such matters.

A bill (H.R. 3035) pending before the House Judiciary Committee would allow internet and telecommunications companies to report an estimated number of surveillance orders received; the estimated number of orders complied with; and the estimated number of users and accounts on whom information is requested or provided.

Similar provisions are included in a measure (S. 1452) awaiting action from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) is the chief sponsor of the House bill. The Senate measure was introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

Meanwhile, Google, Microsoft and other Internet companies have filed separate motions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking a declaration that they have a right to publish statistics on national security orders.