CDT Brings Together Major Internet Companies & Advocates To Demand More Transparency Around Government Surveillance

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), on behalf of an unprecedented coalition of Internet companies and advocates for free speech and privacy rights, today delivered a letter to the US government demanding greater transparency around national security-related surveillance of Internet and telephone communications. Major companies like Apple, Facebook and Twitter, along with key organizations behind the StopWatching.Us surveillance reform campaign such as Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, joined in the effort with dozens of other companies and organizations, large and small.

In the wake of recent revelations about the breadth of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, the letter presses both the Obama Administration and Congress to allow Internet and telephone companies to publish general numerical information about the different types of government requests they receive and the number of people affected. The letter further pushes for the government to issue its own “transparency reports” detailing similar information about the scope of its surveillance activities. And a newly launched petition directed at the White House via WeNeedToKnow.info invites the public to add their voice to the call for greater transparency around government surveillance.

“Democracy requires accountability and accountability requires transparency. Yet the American people lack basic information about the scope of the government’s surveillance of the Internet, information that many companies would eagerly share with their users if only they weren’t gagged by the government,” said Kevin Bankston, CDT Senior Counsel and Director of Free Expression, who organized the joint call-to-action. “Transparency around government surveillance is critical to the Internet economy. Internet companies responsible for protecting the privacy and security of our communications need to maintain the trust of their users in the U.S. and around the globe. Allowing companies to issue transparency reports that contain basic information about the government’s demands for data will help them do just that.”

The letter and petition come just a week after a smaller but equally bipartisan coalition of free speech organizations, including CDT and led by the First Amendment Coalition, filed briefs supporting Google and Microsoft’s motions to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court for a declaration that they have the right to publish basic information about governments demands. Google and Microsoft both signed on to today’s letter, along with Yahoo!, which also has a motion in front of the FISA Court pressing for its right to disclose more information.

“Basic numerical data about criminal law enforcement surveillance has been published for years without disrupting investigations or tipping off Tony Soprano. Publishing similar data about national security surveillance won’t make the American people less secure—only more informed,” continued Bankston. “We cannot have a meaningful debate about the scope of the government’s surveillance authority until we have an informed public. People in the intelligence agencies often talk about how important it is to limit information to those with a ‘need to know’. Well, the American people need to know, and we need to know now.”

A copy of the letter is available at: https://www.cdt.org/files/pdfs/weneedtoknow-transparency-letter.pdf