Microsoft: Talks with US gov't on surveillance transparency break down

Microsoft and Google will proceed with their lawsuits asking that they be able to publish surveillance request numbers

Negotiations have broken down between two Internet giants and U.S. government representatives over the companies' requests to publish information on the surveillance requests they receive, a Microsoft executive said Friday.

Microsoft and Google both filed lawsuits in June asking that the companies be allowed to disclose more information about U.S. government surveillance requests they receive. The two companies agreed to extend the government's deadline to respond to the lawsuits during negotiations over recent weeks, but those negotiations have failed, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith wrote in a blog post.

"We hoped that these discussions would lead to an agreement acceptable to all," Smith wrote. "While we appreciate the good faith and earnest efforts by the capable Government lawyers with whom we negotiated, we are disappointed that these negotiations ended in failure."

The two companies requested that they be allowed to publish data about the number of surveillance requests they receive after former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about the agency's widespread surveillance activities.

"We both remain concerned with the Government's continued unwillingness to permit us to publish sufficient data relating to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders," Smith wrote. "We believe we have a clear right under the U.S. Constitution to share more information with the public."

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's announcement Thursday that his office would begin to publish the total number of national security requests each year was a "good start," Smith wrote. "But the public deserves and the Constitution guarantees more than this first step."

Microsoft wants to publish information showing the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email, he said. 

Microsoft and Google will move forward with their lawsuits after negotiations have broken down, Smith said. The U.S. Department of Justice has a late Friday deadline to respond to both Google's and Microsoft's lawsuits in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

A DOJ spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment on Smith's blog post.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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