Tech giants demand surveillance court transparency

The U.S. government has to be more forthcoming in its attempts to keep information about surveillance programs hidden, Google; Facebook; Microsoft; Yahoo and LinkedIn said Tuesday.

In attempting to obscure its reasons for limiting transparency around surveillance, the government is violating surveillance laws and constitutional protections, the companies told the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The five major tech companies are suing the federal government in the surveillance court for the ability to publish more information about the types and numbers of government requests for user data they receive.

In a heavily-redacted brief from September, the Department of Justice told the surveillance court that companies would help terrorists avoid detection by providing more information about government requests for user data. If terrorists know which communications platforms are monitored, they could switch to using less-monitored platforms, the DOJ argued.

During the government shutdown, the companies asked the surveillance court to delay proceedings until the DOJ attorneys could return to the agency to answer the companies’ questions about the redacted brief.

Ultimately, the DOJ “rejected all requests for greater access,” the companies told the surveillance court this week.

The U.S. government should not be able to keep secret its reasons behind prohibiting companies from publishing more information on surveillance requests, the companies wrote.

“The government has not argued that sharing those reasons with the [companies] or their counsel would endanger national security.”

In Tuesday’s brief, the companies list the ways they’ve tried to cooperate with the DOJ, including making the government’s arguments available to only a “neutral third-party advisor” or company lawyers that have appropriate security clearances.

“The government has categorically refused any and all access” by the companies’ lawyers “and has made clear that it is unwilling to entertain” the proposed alternatives, the group of tech giants said.