Edward Snowden's revelations about the extent of NSA snooping activities led to a strong clamor for greater transparency. The giants of Silicon Valley have had to cooperate with the government whenever there was a request for data but now they are emboldened to push back. They demand clearer guidelines on what can constitutes a legal request. They also want to be able to reveal the exact number of US surveillance requests, their nature, and the scope of their effects on users.
In a landmark deal, the companies and the government agreed on a compromise solution in which the public may be informed of information requests but only under layers of obstruction.
The figures cannot be given in exact form but rather in a range that is narrowed down to the nearest thousands. The kinds of data being asked cannot be revealed. There will also have to be a significant delay between the sending of the requests and the publishing of these quantities. Right now, this stands at six months.
Various stakeholders and concerned groups are not pleased with the severe limitations surrounding the transparency deal. The Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF was glad that concrete steps are being undertaken to promote transparency. However, the reports generated a lot of questions. The lumped figures, for instance, makes it difficult to discern if there is any legal framework guiding the policies and casts doubts on the government's claim that it is open to scrutiny.
Microsoft pointed out that while the president has been introducing reforms, there is a lack of commitment on the part of the government to reject attempts at infiltrating Internet companies. While they understand the need for sensitive information, they wish to operate under the rule of law. For its part, Google wants to educate the public about surveillance laws so that they can decide whether their loss of privacy is worth it.