Feds Offer Tech Companies Possibility of a Little More Surveillance Transparency

You're not just a number to us. You're a range of numbers.Rejoice! Your federal
government overlords are kindly permitting tech companies to
provide you a little bit more transparency about their requests for
user data. It’s not a whole lot more information, but it’s

The Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National
Intelligence put out a
joint statement
that will cause your brain to supply the sound
of a Peanuts teacher while you’re trying to read it (or maybe
that’s just me). One relevant paragraph:

This action was directed by the President earlier this month in
his speech on intelligence reforms. 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.

Translation: “What we’re doing is extremely legal and for
national security, but if it will make you paranoid jerks happy, we
will put everybody’s lives at risk of terrorism to give you a
little bit more information. And no, Edward Snowden still isn’t a

Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote the
(pdf) explaining the proposed changes in how tech
companies will be permitted to reveal federal requests for user
data. The restrictions on detailing National Security Letters will
not change, alas. They will still have to be counted in vague
factors of 1,000. But tech companies will also be able to reveal
numbers of FISA court-approved orders  for content or
“non-content” (metadata) and the number of customers targeted for
gathering of content and for “non-content” (metadata), again all
rounded to the thousands.

In addition, there will be a six-month delay for publishing the
information, and, more importantly, a two-year delay in allowing
any transparency when the feds start ordering companies to provide
data from new platforms, products and services they hadn’t been
snooping before. So users who jump ship to new social media or
communication systems online may not know for a while whether the
feds are getting info from or about them.

The feds are also offering a transparency alternative that
allows tech companies to provide more accurate numbers in exchange
for being less transparent about what the requests were for. So a
tech company could instead detail how many customers and how many
orders they’ve gotten in bands of 250, rather than 1,000, but they
would not be able to separate out the super-secret National
Security Letters from requests for metadata.

No, there’s nothing in the letter that suggests any sort of
scaling back of mass data collection.

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