Freed by a recent legal deal with government lawyers, major technology firms released new data Monday on how often they are ordered to turn over customer information for secret national security investigations figures that show that the government collected data on thousands of Americans.
The publications disclosed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr provided expanded details and some vented criticism about the government’s handling of customers’ Internet data in counter-terrorism and other intelligence-related probes.
The figures from 2012 and 2013 showed that companies, such as Google and Microsoft, were compelled by the government to provide information on as many as 10,000 customer accounts in a six-month period. Yahoo complied with government requests for information on more than 40,000 accounts in the same period.
The companies earlier provided limited information about government requests for data, but a new agreement reached last week with the Obama administration allowed the firms to provide a broadened, though still circumscribed, set of figures to the public.
The new figures were released just a week after major tech firms announced a legal agreement with the Justice Department. But lawyers and executive for the companies openly vented their discomfort with the government’s continuing insistence that they could only provide broad ranges instead of the actual numbers of government requests.
The companies said they would press for narrower data ranges that would offer more details.
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the companies’ releases and comments. The spokesman pointed to a late January statement by DNI James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder that said the agreement would allow the firms to “disclose more information than ever before to their customers.”
Google and all the other companies denied that they gave any government unfettered access to their users’ info. The companies are worried more people will reduce their online activities if they believe almost everything they do is being monitored by the government. A decline in Web surfing could hurt the companies financially by giving them fewer opportunities to show online ads and sell other services.
The data coming out Monday indicated the U.S. government is digging deeper into the Internet as people spend more time online.
All the companies also received FISA requests that weren’t aimed at scooping up online communications or photos. Those demands sought things such as billing information and locations of where people made an Internet connection.
Even if the companies can share more information about the FISA requests, they still might face doubts raised by other National Security Agency documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden asserting that U.S. government has found ways to tap into the lines transmitting personal information between data centers. The companies are trying to thwart the hacking by encrypting most, if not all the data, stored on their computers.