A broad alliance of influential tech companies and civil liberties groups published a letter on Thursday, calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to be more transparent about the information it collects to spy on people.
The letter, embedded below, is significant not only for its demands but for the large and diverse number of signatories — everyone from Human Rights Watch to Apple to venture capitalists like Union Square Ventures. Phone carriers, like Verizon and AT&T(T), however, are not among the signers.
The letter comes in the wake of ongoing revelations that show security services to be collecting a vast swath of information from phone and internet companies, and asks the government to change provisions of the Patriot Act so as to lift some of the secrecy that shrouds the surveillance.
The current law forbids the companies, in many cases, from disclosing how many records the government is collecting. The law also relies on a secret court that lets companies like Yahoo challenge surveillance requests — but forbids them even disclosing when a legal challenge is filed.
The letter asks the government to provide more specifics about the number of people they are surveilling and, in the absence of government reports, to let the companies themselves reveal such information. Companies like Google and Twitter have been leaders in publishing so-called “Transparency Reports” but laws often forbid them from disclosing even very general information in the reports.
Here is some of what the coalition wants the government to disclose:
• The number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legalauthorities such as Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, Section 702 of the FISA AmendmentsAct, the various National Security Letter (NSL) statutes, and others.• The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested under each authority.• The number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information.