Microsoft, Google Push Forward with NSA Lawsuit

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft and Google say they really want you to know how much of your personal information they're passing on to the National Security Agency (NSA). In a bid to gain that right, the tech titans are suing the United States government.

The lawsuit is the result of data collection by the NSA. The agency has been at the center of a media firestorm ever since whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the NSA's surveillance programs earlier this year.

Negotiations with U.S. Government Break Down

Microsoft and Google want consumers to know how much information they're forced to pass on to the NSA. Because they've been told that's not possible, the two firms initiated a lawsuit earlier this summer.

That lawsuit was briefly put on hold when it appeared the government would negotiate, but those negotiations have reportedly stalled.

Microsoft vice president and general counsel Brad Smith says the firm has only been able to convince the government to reveal the number of data requests it makes once each year.

But while Microsoft sees that as a "good start," it believes the public deserves more "than this first step." (Source:

"We believe it is vital to publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email," Smith said. (Source:

"These figures should be published in a form that is distinct from the number of demands that capture only metadata such as the subscriber information associated with a particular email address. We believe it's possible to publish these figures in a manner that avoids putting security at risk," Smith added.

National Security Letters Force Firms to Release Data

Right now the government carefully protects its requests for information through 'national security letters', which block firms like Google and Microsoft from announcing who is being investigated and how.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the government has suggested it may soon begin releasing its own reports on NSA activity. However, many experts doubt those reports will provide any meaningful information or give people an accurate idea of how the NSA operates.

For now, Smith says tech firms have little choice but to press the issue in court.

"Unless this type of information is made public, any discussion of government practices and service provider obligations will remain incomplete," Smith said. (Source:

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