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Want a Debate on Surveillance? Give Us the Facts First.

Alex Abdo,
Former Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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July 18, 2013

Earlier today, 63 companies and organizations — including the ACLU, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo! — asked the government to allow companies that receive foreign-intelligence surveillance requests to publicly discuss those requests in basic terms. The ACLU signed the letter because the debate that the administration claims to have welcomed on NSA surveillance cannot take place in a vacuum. We need to know more about how those programs operate so that the public can decide for itself whether they are appropriate and necessary.

The letter is also accompanied by a petition to the White House, which you can sign here. The letter and the petition ask the government to allow companies like Google and Microsoft to publish:

  1. The number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legal authorities such as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the various National Security Letter statutes, and others;
  2. The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested under each authority;
  3. The number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information.

They also ask that the government publish similar information in its own “transparency report.”

President Obama had it right when, on his first full day in office, he declared, “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.” That is why we have separately asked the government and the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to publish the legal opinions that authorized the government’s sweeping surveillance programs.

You can read about those separate requests here and here.

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