The Obama administration is now allowing communications providers to disclose more information about government requests it receives for customer data.
On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a joint statement on the matter via the Department of Justice website.
In addition, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole sent an open letter (PDF) to the general counsels at Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and career networking service LinkedIn.
“…the administration is acting to allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, and the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests including the underlying legal authorities,” the statement said. “Through these new reporting methods, communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers.”
Among the changes, are alternative reporting options that allow a provider to disclose the number of national security letters (NSLs) and FISA orders it receives in ranges of 1,000, if the requests are revealed separately. If firms wish to report the combined number of national security requests they received, including NSLs and FISA orders, they can be reported in increments of 250.
Prior to the change, companies providing information on national security letters (used by government agencies, such as the FBI, to demand data of organizations) could only do so in increments of 1,000.
Before the change went into effect, firms were also barred from reporting any data about FISA orders they received from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, a federal body shrouded in secrecy.
The move comes in response to President Obama's call earlier this month to make government data requests more transparent for the public.
During the public address on Jan. 17, the president also directed that NSA's trove of telephone data be moved into the hands of another party. Obama gave the NSA and his attorney general 60 days to come up with a plan for how and where the telephone data would be stored moving forward.