Tech Giants Join New Push for Disclosure on Government Data-Gathering

(San Jose Mercury News/MCT) —

Apple Inc., Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Yahoo Inc. joined other tech companies and civil liberties groups Thursday in asking the government for more disclosure about the extent of its internet surveillance programs, in another sign of growing public controversy over those national security efforts.

More than 60 companies and nonprofit groups co-signed a letter that calls on the Obama administration to let internet companies report how many requests for customer data they receive from national security officials, as well as details on how many customer accounts are affected and the kind of data that’s requested.

The information “is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness” of the national security laws, said the letter, which is addressed to President Barack Obama and top administration officials, as well as congressional leaders including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“Democracy demands accountability, and accountability requires transparency,” said Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell in a blog post about the letter.

There was no immediate response from federal officials.

Since the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed last month that the government has collected certain internet user data as part of its anti-terrorism efforts, leading tech companies have sought to distance themselves from those efforts by insisting they only comply with government requests when they are legally required to do so. Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo have also filed lawsuits asking the government to disclose more about its programs.

Co-signers of the letter released Thursday include Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn Inc., Microsoft, Mozilla, Twitter Inc., Yahoo and other tech companies, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other nonprofit groups.

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