In the wake of the PRISM leaks, users of popular services such as Facebook, Google, and Outlook have been increasingly concerned about the privacy of their accounts. To reassure these users, these companies have started revealing the exact number of data-related legal orders they have received from the U.S. government and intelligence agencies.
The earliest to divulge these numbers are Microsoft and Facebook. Both have come up with the exact number of legal orders to which they had to comply during the past six months.
According to Facebook officials, the social network has received, and complied with, legal orders about 18,000 accounts over the last six months. This, Facebook is quick to remind us, is one-thousandth of one percent of Facebook’s total users.
The numbers for Microsoft are a tad bit high over the past year. According to the company, it has received and complied with legal orders pertaining to the data of 31,000 accounts over the past half year. The numbers tend to reveal a far less alarming situation compared to what the users had been fearing.
Google is also on its way to divulge the exact number of requests it has received. The search giant has reassured that it will release these numbers soon and that its numbers will be far more detailed.
These disclosures have come as a result of internet companies pushing the U.S. government for more transparency. It would appear that the government has given them the green signal to reveal the details of data requests, in order to placate their users and make the entire process of data requests far more transparent.
According to a blog post from the Facebook team, “We’re pleased that as a result of our discussions, we can now include in a transparency report all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters) – which until now no company has been permitted to do. As of today, the government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range. This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds.”
These are encouraging signs and show that if internet companies launch concerted efforts, they can make things even more transparent. A limited number of data requests, all security experts agree, will always be needed for security purposes. But by revealing the exact number of such requests, the companies can keep NSA and the U.S. government in check so that no one becomes prone to abusing their power.