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Tech titans team up to complain about US government spy requests

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Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! have all filed petitions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) asking for a relaxation of rules that would allow them to give customers more of an idea of what data is being collected by the US intelligence agencies.

"Working with others in the industry, we’ve been pursuing a variety of options to provide additional transparency about any legal demands we may receive pursuant to U.S. national security authorities," said Redmond's deputy general counsel John Frank in a Monday blog post.

"We believe we have a constitutional right to share this information, and we’ll continue to make that case before the court."

Google and Microsoft have already begun court action to try and get more information made public. Specifically, they want to be able to break down exactly what is being collected (metadata, email communications, etc) for their transparency reports. Google has backed up its court filing by using a Monday meeting of the President’s Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to press its case for more openness, it said.

Yahoo! has had its own request for more a relaxed FISC regimen pending since June and it put on more pressure last week when it released its first transparency report. This showed that the US government had made 12,444 requests for data from 40,322 Yahoo! accounts, more than most other countries combined.

Meanwhile Facebook's general counsel Colin Stretch said in a blog post on Monday that the social network was joining forces with its competitors to get the reporting restrictions on data requests eased. He said that there had been some progress, such as the relaxation of secrecy over National Security Letters, but that this wasn't enough to reassure customers.

"We believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent," he said. "We hope and believe the action we take today will help spur the United States government to provide greater transparency about its efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure."

All four companies publish their own transparency reports and have made public commitments to openness with users. But there's also the fact that corporate customers are getting increasingly leery of using American companies' cloud services if the servers providing them are subject to secret searches. ®

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