Lofgren, Sensenbrenner urge administration to let tech giants publish surveillance data

Companies are currently prevented by law to publish this data, or even acknowledge that they have received requests for user data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Lofgren and Sensenbrenner argue that this restraint "undermines trust in a crucial sector of the domestic economy and impedes informed debate on an issue of intense public interest."

Reports in The Guardian and The Washington Post claimed that Google, Apple, Microsoft and other top U.S. tech companies provided the NSA "direct access" to their servers under a surveillance program called PRISM. The program has reportedly been used by the NSA to monitor the Web traffic, including email messages and Web chats, of foreign targets.

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Privacy advocates have questioned whether U.S. citizens' electronic communications to people outside the country have been collected by the NSA under PRISM.

During a Wednesday hearing on the government's use of surveillance law, Lofgren said it's "terribly unfair" that U.S.-based Web companies are barred from showing their users how many national security requests they actually receive in the face of these allegations.

Google and Microsoft have both filed petitions to the secret FISA court that ask for permission to publish these figures, arguing that they have a First Amendment right to speak out against these claims and repair their reputation with Internet users. Microsoft has complained that the government has dragged its feet when responding to these requests in a scathing letter sent Tuesday to Holder.