Facebook Joins Industry in Petitioning Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

By Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel

Over the last several months, in the midst of press reports speculating about the nature and scope of government programs aimed at keeping people safe, we’ve repeatedly called for governments around the world to provide more details about the programs they operate. We’ve also urged them to allow companies to divulge information about the government orders and requests they receive, in a manner and to a degree that does not compromise legitimate safety concerns.

Those efforts initially met with some success. In June, as a result of discussions with the U.S. government, we and a number of other companies were permitted to release, within a range, the total number of law enforcement requests for user data we received in a given period, including not just criminal matters, but also all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters). That was an important step. It permitted us to release information that directly refuted many of the outlandish and false media reports circulating at the time. And it allowed us to make clear that a vanishingly small number of people who use Facebook – a tiny fraction of one percent – were the subject of any kind of U.S. government request in the past year.

But that one step is not enough. The actions and statements of the U.S. government have not adequately addressed the concerns of people around the world about whether their information is safe and secure with Internet companies. We believe there is more information that the public deserves to know, and that would help foster an informed debate about whether government security programs adequately balance privacy interests when attempting to keep the public safe. In particular, although we have been permitted to disclose a range of the total number of requests we have received and the number of users associated with those requests, we have not been permitted to specify even approximately how many of those requests may be national security-related, nor have we been permitted to provide information identifying the number of those requests that seek the content of users’ accounts.

In recent weeks, it has become clear that the dialogue with the U.S. government that produced some additional transparency at the outset is at this point unlikely to result in more progress. As a result, today we are joining others in the industry in petitioning the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to require the government to permit companies to disclose more information about the volume and types of national security-related orders they receive.

As we have said many times, we believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent. We hope and believe the action we take today will help spur the United States government to provide greater transparency about its efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure.

Read the signed FISC motion here.

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