With the issues related to NSA a hot topic, the top Internet companies Google, Yahoo and Facebook have now requested permission to publish the number of requests made for user data concerning national security. The request was officially made to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. As of now, it is still under review and I, for one, am not holding my breath waiting for approval. The search engine giant Google went a step further and requested that there be a public hearing of the case so that it can be debated in the open.
Based on the U.S. Government rule to not disclose specific number of requests and user data associated with it, the three companies now have a dilemma. Internet users are increasingly distrusting companies that sell their personal information for profit and share it with their partners. After all, it is the consumer who ultimately pays the costs to keep these firms alive and profitable. The NSA, A US taxpayer funded agency, prohibits users from knowing what data they are collecting. The three major companies published only the number of user data requests received and entertained but specifics were withheld for security purposes.
Major publications have claimed that the NSA had direct access to Google user data, which Google has denied. In the wake of the revelations about the NSA by Edwin Snowden, the company wants to reveal the total number of national security related requests made and the number of users or accounts associated with it.
Throughout the NSA controversies, Google has maintained that the requests made by the government and intelligence community for access to its data have been affecting its business. Their solution is transparency. In Google’s court motion, it asserts that transparency will respond to public criticism and approach the issue in a democratic manner.
All three companies, Facebook, Yahoo and Google have come to a mutually agreement that demands the government amended motions to be filed. They urge U.S. to be a mentor for the world in terms of human rights, civil liberties and transparency with data.
People around the globe need to know if their personal information is safe or not. The situation is a concern even if we assume the best intentions of these programs. It is important to know if the data being shared intelligence agencies is being protected by the agencies themselves with appropriate security and control. It was recently learned, for example, that NSA employees were conducting searches for data on their ex-girlfriends and ex-wives.
There have been numerous incidents of government data being hacked into and compromised. The most significant instance was last year when the revenue agency of the State of South Carolina was hacked and the personal information of 4 million taxpayers was stolen. Clearly, the track record of government entities in protecting personal data is spotty,
The public deserves to know what is happening with their personal information we can have an informed debate. Fortunately, that is exactly what Google, Yahoo and Facebook are arguing in court.