Summary:

America’s intelligence czar says his office will for the first time publish a transparency report, in part similar to the ones issued by tech companies, that will show how often the spy services ask for data.

Sunlight, sun, forest
photo: Peshkova

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence for the Obama administration, says his office will publish its first annual transparency report later this year in order to show how often America’s spy services are requesting data from tech and phone companies.

In a statement reported by the Washington Post, Clapper says the government will for the first time disclose how many requests it makes. It will also break the requests into categories like National Security Letters (used by the FBI and other agencies use to obtain information on American) and so-called FISA-letters, which are targeted at foreigners.

Clapper’s decision to reveal stats related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is particularly significant because, until now, all FISA requests — some of which ensnare Americans — are overseen by a controversial secret court. And while companies like Google have been asking the secret court for permission to disclose how many FISA letters they receive every year, the entire process has been taking place in near total darkness.

The proposed “transparency report” appears intended, in part, to mimic the practice of Google and other tech companies (Facebook is the latest) of issuing their own transparency reports in order to call attention to government data requests.

The announcement appears to be good news for civil libertarians and advocates for great government transparency, but it remains to be seen if the information will lead to any changes in the practice and oversight of America’s growing surveillance systems. At the same time, the media and political figures have called Clapper’s own credibility into doubt, accusing him of lying about the government’s controversial data collection programs.

Update: Microsoft and Google, who have been suing the government in the secret spy court, said on Friday that Clapper’s report is not adequate and that they will continue with their lawsuits.

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