US to allow companies to disclose more details on government requests for data

Coverage Type: reporting
Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20530-0001, United States

The Justice Department has agreed to relax its long-standing gag order on certain types of sensitive data requests made to companies, allowing them for the first time to publicize -- in broad terms -- how often they must furnish customer information to the government, US officials announced.

The agreement, struck in response to legal challenges from Google, Microsoft and other technology companies, comes as part of President Obama’s effort to ease the secrecy around government intelligence-gathering in the aftermath of revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The new policy will allow companies to report on national security letters -- a form of administrative subpoena -- as well as on requests from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). However, they will be permitted to disclose the volume of requests only in wide numerical ranges. The same rules will apply to requests from the FISC. Companies will also have the option of lumping the two categories of data requests together in a single total. If they do so, the numeric range can be in smaller bands, such as between “zero and 249,” according to the Justice Department. US officials have said that more-precise reporting might tip targets off to investigations.



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