Google and Microsoft sue US government over FISA transparency

Google and Microsoft have sued the US government for the freedom to disclose FISA data surveillance requests, after demands from the two companies to reveal to users when the NSA requests information went unmet. "We believe we have a clear right under the U.S. Constitution to share more information with the public" Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs, wrote today, describing how while Google and Microsoft may often be seen as enemies, "today our two companies stand together."

Google was first out of the pair to request permission to disclose the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders back in June, with Microsoft following shortly after. Although today Smith concedes that the government has made some moves toward greater transparency, he maintains that there is still work to be done.

"Yesterday, the Government announced that it would begin publishing the total number of national security requests for customer data for the past 12 months and do so going forward once a year," Smith said of the new policy. "The Government's decision represents a good start. But the public deserves and the Constitution guarantees more than this first step."

According to the legal expert, attempts to encourage more flexibility in how FISA disclosures were made fell on deaf ears, leaving pursuing litigation the only route forward that looks at all likely to bear fruit. In fact, both Microsoft and Google filed their suits against the government back in June, alongside negotiations.

"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. 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. And unless this type of information is made public, any discussion of government practices and service provider obligations will remain incomplete" Brad Smith, General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft

They're not the only organizations with ongoing legal battles against US government agencies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation led a coalition that sued the NSA back in July, taking issue with PRISM telephone call monitoring.