Tech firms push for NSA surveillance transparency bills

Google, Facebook, Apple and other companies call on Congress to move quickly on NSA legislation

The U.S. Congress must act quickly on legislation that would make electronic data collection efforts by the U.S. National Security Agency more public, a group of tech firms, civil liberties groups and other organizations said Monday.

Internet and telecommunications companies that receive data collection and surveillance requests from the NSA should "have the right to publish basic statistics about the government demands for user data," the coalition said in a letter to the judiciary committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

The letter endorsed two pieces of legislation, the Surveillance Transparency Act in the Senate and the Surveillance Order Reporting Act in the House, both of which would allow companies to publish information about the number of surveillance requests they receive from U.S. agencies. The Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, with 11 co-sponsors, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and the House bill is sponsored by Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, with nine co-sponsors.

The Senate bill would require the U.S. government to issue annual public reports on surveillance requests made through the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Companies receiving surveillance requests could publish numbers every six months.

The House bill would allow Internet firms and telecoms to report the number of surveillance requests they receive every three months.

Companies signing Monday's letter included AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and Yahoo. Other organizations signing on were the American Civil Liberties Union, BSA, Consumer Action, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, Public Knowledge and TechFreedom. Some of the tech companies signing on to the letter have previously asked the government to allow them to report surveillance request numbers.

Lawmakers have introduced more than 20 bills focused on reforming government surveillance efforts in recent months, after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about massive data collection and surveillance programs at the NSA. The Center for Democracy and Technology detailed 20 bills in a list released Sept. 12, and since then, four senators introduced another bill, called the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, which would outlaw the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. telephone records.

In addition, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said last week she plans to introduce a bill that would largely allow current NSA data collection practices to continue. The bill would add transparency to the process, Feinstein said, but it would also allow the NSA to continue collecting the communications of terrorism suspects who enter the U.S. for seven days while authorities seek court-ordered warrants.

The Senate Intelligence Committee may debate the Feinstein proposal, and potentially other bills, in closed session later this week.

In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Wednesday hearing on oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, one piece of legislation that allows NSA surveillance.

One of the bills most likely to pass, said Greg Nojeim, CDT's senior counsel, is the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act, sponsored by Leahy. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy has the power to push the bill through committee.

That bill would end the bulk collection of telephone metadata now happening at the NSA. It requires that telephone data collection orders pertain to an agent of a foreign power or be relevant to the activities of an agent of a foreign power. The bill also requires inspector general audits of past data collection of U.S. records at the NSA.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags reddittelecommunicationU.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance CourtLinkedInU.S. CongressAl FrankeninternetlegislationmozillaFacebookAppleBSAGoogleTechFreedomCenter for Democracy and TechnologygovernmentGreg NojeimPatrick LeahyDianne FeinsteinU.S. National Security AgencyElectronic Frontier FoundationprivacyPublic KnowledgeConsumer ActionAOLYahooAmerican Civil Liberties UnionZoe LofgrenMicrosoftsecurityEdward Snowdentwitter

More about AOLAppleBSACDTElectronic Frontier FoundationFacebookGoogleIDGMicrosoftMozillaNational Security AgencyNSATechnologyYahoo

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Grant Gross

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts