Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others reveal government request stats

How much does the US government spy on users
Lots of vague transparency reports released today

There's a little more transparency in the US government's cloaked internet affairs, as tech giants are now able to disclose more information regarding government data requests.

For the first time, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and others able to reveal the volumes of both National Security Letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act they have received.

The requests have forced these companies to turn over personal information of their online account holders. It's not exactly what internet users signed up for, though the numbers do remain small.

"Only a fraction of a percent of our users are affected by these orders," surmised Brad Smith, Microsoft's executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs.

"In short, this means that we have not received the type of bulk data requests that are commonly discussed publicly regarding telephone records"

Still not doing enough

These internet companies, many with upwards of a billion users each, have been lobbying the government to ease its gag order on the information they can reveal to the public.

The new data discloses the number of requests and how many users or accounts were affected in total, but it's on a six-month delay. This is just the tipping point for these companies.

"More transparency is needed so everyone can better understand how surveillance laws work and decide whether or not they serve the public interest," wrote Richard Salgado, Google legal director.

Further details like specific types of requests received and number of users they affect are desired.

What about data on the down-low?

As Microsoft pointed out, today's numbers are sourced from government requests made through the proper channels.

"Nothing in today's report minimizes the significance of efforts by governments to obtain customer information outside legal process," noted Smith.

"Purported hacking of cables running between data centers of some of our competitors [has] been and remains a major concern across the tech sector."

To that point, last month, it was alleged that British spies have penetrated fiber optic cables to collect YouTube views and Facebook "like" data in order to prevent overseas protests.

The British intelligence service GCHQ reportedly passed its methods along to its counterparts in the US, the Prism-linked NSA.

Matt Swider