Gov't, Internet companies reach deal on disclosure

A sign outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md., June 6, 2013.
Patrick Semansky/AP

The government and leading Internet companies have agreed to a compromise allowing companies to reveal how often they are ordered to turn over information about their customers in national security investigations.

The Justice Department announced the deal Monday with Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., Facebook Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. Other companies are expected to participate once it's approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Companies wanted to make the disclosures to alleviate public speculation about their cooperation with the government. The government opposed the companies' request, saying it could interfere with national security investigations.

The reporting will allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued, the number of customer accounts targeted, and the underlying legal authorities, Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a joint statement. Companies will have to wait six months before releasing information about intelligence orders.

The agreement follows a speech President Obama delivered earlier this month in which he pledged to enact a series of reforms to the nation’s intelligence gathering, including letting tech companies disclose more about their cooperation with the government.

The reforms come amid continued revelations about the extent of National Security Agency surveillance. Documents published Monday suggest smartphone apps, including social networking apps from companies like Facebook, can feed huge amounts of personal data to spy agencies.

Meanwhile, a handful of lawmakers on Monday, led by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., sent President Obama a letter urging him to fire Clapper for lying to Congress about the extent of NSA surveillance.

“The continued role of James Clapper as Director of National Intelligence is incompatible with the goal of restoring trust in our security programs and ensuring the highest level of transparency,” they wrote.

Along with Issa, the letter was signed by Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas; Paul Broun, R-Ga.; Doug Collins, R-Ga.; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; and Alan Grayson, D-Fla..