Edward Snowden's leaks have shaken something loose in the IT industry. For years, companies have been afraid to talk about the requests and data sharing procedures the NSA
and FBI have forced upon them as a result of the Patriot Act. Companies that went to court to fight these demands lost, and lost in silence, forbidden to even reveal that such requests were taking place. Now that the programs are common knowledge, multiple corporations have joined in to demand the right to tell us just how they participate in NSA requests.
Today, a coalition of 63 companies, non-profits, and organizations issued a letter requesting the right to communicate the following:
- The number of government requests for information about their users made under specific legal authorities such as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the various National Security Letter (NSL) statues, and others;
- The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested under each authority; and
- The number of requests under each authority that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information.
By dogpiling in all at once, the various companies (including AOL, Apple
, Digg, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit) are clearly hoping to push both public opinion and Congressional attention towards their side. We concur with the need to discuss how this data is being used, both against foreign nationals and our own citizens. The more data appears regarding the NSA's director, General Keith B. Alexander, the more obvious it is that the man has a warped view of what constitutes an appropriate use of power. According to the Washington Post, Alexander has relentlessly pushed for greater powers and expanded authority for years. At each step, Thomas Drake, a former NSA whistleblower, described Alexander as "absolutely obsessed and completely driven to take it all, whenever possible." According to Drake, continuing Alexander's policies will result in the evisceration of American civil liberties.
It doesn't help that Alexander has been caught lying to Congress about the NSA's capability for spying or that he lied last year at DEFCON, when he told the crowd that ""the story that we [at the NSA] have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is absolutely false." He's also pushed for covert action authority, which is traditionally the domain of the CIA.
Maybe Alexander is in the right -- maybe not. Either way, it's time to have a discussion about how our data is being used and under what circumstances the federal government can access it.