On Tuesday Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel & executive vice president of legal & corporate affairs, said that the company asked the Attorney General of the United States to personally take action to allow Microsoft and other companies to be more transparent regarding how they handle national security requests for customer information. The U.S. constitution guarantees the freedom to share more information to the public, yet the government is essentially using a gag order on these companies.
"Government lawyers have yet to respond to the petition we filed in court on June 19, seeking permission to publish the volume of national security requests we have received," Smith states. "We hope the Attorney General can step in to change this situation. Until that happens, we want to share as much information as we currently can."
"There are significant inaccuracies in the interpretations of leaked government documents reported in the media last week," he added. "We have asked the Government again for permission to discuss the issues raised by these new documents, and our request was denied by government lawyers."
The rest of the lengthy statement responds to last week's report about how Microsoft shares data with the NSA regarding Outlook.com, SkyDrive, Skype calling, and enterprise email and document storage. He also goes on to state that Microsoft only pulls and then provides the specific data mandated by the relevant legal demand. He also said the company only respond to requests for specific accounts and identifiers, and so on. The entire statement can be accessed here.
Meanwhile, the company has joined Apple, Google, Facebook and a number of others in a broad alliance spanning 63 companies, investors, non-profits and trade organizations that are demanding a dramatic increase in transparency regarding U.S. government surveillance efforts. Their letter will be published on Thursday, asking President Obama and congressional leaders to allow Web-based, telephone and Internet providers to reveal additional details about national security-related requests.
AllThingsD has reportedly acquired a copy of the letter which shows that the alliance wants to report on a regular basis the number of government requests for information about their users, the number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested, and the number of requests that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information. The alliance is also asking the government to produce a transparency report of its own providing the same information. That's fair, right?
"We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government’s national security–related authorities," the letter states. "Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties and human rights."
Also included in the alliance is Yahoo, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Tumblr, Twitter, Dropbox, Reddit and many, many others.
What a mess.