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Tech giants reach agreement with US over transparency in data-collection

Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and LinkedIn have reached an agreement with the US government over data-collection transparency
Who's watching? The US government's agreement with five tech companies will mean online users can find out how their information has been shared with government agencies

Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and LinkedIn have reached an agreement with the US government over data-collection transparency

Amid unrelenting controversy over online data collected by governments, the US has reached an agreement with top tech companies that will allow online users to see how their information has been shared with government agencies.

The deal follows an unprecedented lawsuit filed by Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and LinkedIn, in which companies called for greater transparency in the sharing of data. Under the new agreement, the companies will be able to disclose to users how many information requests they receive from government agencies per year, and how many user accounts have been affected by these requests.

Under the new agreement, the companies will be able to disclose to users how many information requests they receive from government agencies per year

Since Edward Snowden leaked details about the US government’s data collection activities, tech companies have been under the spotlight to disclose how much information the National Security Agency (NSA) has had access to and how this has affected users.

“We’re pleased the Department of Justice has agreed that we and other providers can disclose this information,” a representative of the five companies involved in the suit told the FT. “While this is a very positive step, we’ll continue to address all of the reforms we believe are needed. 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 Department of Justice communicated the decision in a letter issued to the plaintiffs detailing how the information may be released to users. According to the agreement, the companies will be able to reveal the number of data requests received, within ranges. The option will be given to disclose the number of “national security letters” and specific court orders within bands of 1000. The alternative is to reveal in bunches of 250 all the national security requests together.

“While this aggregate data was properly classified until today, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with other departments and agencies, has determined that the public interest in disclosing this information now outweighs the national security concerns that required its classification,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The agreement has been largely welcomed by commentators, who have hailed it as a victory for transparency. However, some have suggested the new arrangement is merely a first step and that Congress should go much further in demanding information about the government’s data-gathering practises.

 

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