Government allows companies to disclose information on spying requests

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 27, 2014 

The Obama administration announced Monday that it will allow companies to disclose for the first time what information the government has ordered them to turn over as part of its surveillance programs.

The decision was expected.

President Barack Obama mentioned the proposal in his long-anticipated speech on changes to the United States’ vast surveillance programs a week ago.

“The administration is acting to allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests, and the underlying legal authorities," Attorney General Eric Holder and James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said in a joint statement. "Through these new reporting methods, communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers."

Holder and Clapper said they determined that "the public interest in disclosing this information now outweighs the national security concerns that required its classification."

The decision comes as Obama is attempting to ease secrecy around government spying following a series of disclosures of classified documents by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Snowden began releasing classified documents last June that showed the agency has been collecting the telephone and email records of millions of Americans and foreigners, eavesdropping on allies such as Germany and Brazil and spying on a host of global institutions, including the World Bank.

The new policy will allow companies to report on national security letters -- a type of administrative subpoena -- and requests from the secret court.

The change was made in a letter from Deputy Attorney General James Cole to five companies that filed legal requests to the court for more transparency.

"We filed our lawsuits because we believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive," the companies said in a joint statement Monday. "We're pleased the Department of Justice has agreed that we and other providers can disclose this information. While this is a very positive step, we'll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed."

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