Several internet behemoths released updated data Monday detailing in broad terms the amount of national security requests for user data they have received from the government, part of transparency reports recently permitted by the Obama administration.
The reports — from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo — provide information on the number of government requests for user data, the amount of users affected by those requests, and the percentage of requests that yielded a response. Their disclosures join a similar one published last week by Apple.
But the data, detailing an aggregate sweep of six-month intervals, is only allowed to be listed in “bands of 1,000,” per government instructions. For example, in detailing its most recent report covering January to June 2013, Microsoft explains that it received fewer than 1,000 orders “seeking disclosure of customer content” and that those orders “related to between 15,000 and 15,999” accounts.
In disclosing the records detailing government-data requests, the tech giants opined that they need to disclose more specific data in order to fully calm the rising tide of privacy and civil-liberty concerns users have expressed in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks.
“Publishing these numbers is a step in the right direction, and speaks to the principles for reform that we announced with other companies last December,” Google said in a blog post. “But we still believe more transparency is needed so everyone can better understand how surveillance laws work and decide whether or not they serve the public interest.”
Google called on Congress to adopt stronger transparency measures and said it wants to be able to disclose “precise numbers and types of requests we receive, as well as the number of users they affect in a timely way.”
Microsoft’s Brad Smith, executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs, was even harsher in his blog post:
“[N]othing in today’s report minimizes the significance of efforts by governments to obtain customer information outside legal process. Since the Washington Post reported in October about the purported hacking of cables running between data centers of some of our competitors, this has been and remains a major concern across the tech sector…. However, despite the President’s reform efforts and our ability to publish more information, there has not yet been any public commitment by either the U.S. or other governments to renounce the attempted hacking of Internet companies. We believe the Constitution requires that our government seek information from American companies within the rule of law.”
The Obama administration announced last week that it would allow Internet companies to disclose government data requests for consumer information, a policy change resulting from negotiations between the tech companies that had filed lawsuits arguing for more leeway in sharing with users information about government surveillance approved via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The announcement was widely praised as a necessary step forward by privacy advocates, though many, including several members of Congress, quickly cautioned that more needed to be done. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said that “further changes still must be enacted into law by Congress.”
What We're Following See More »
Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."