Google has welcomed the National Security Agency transparency report, but said it does not provide a full picture.
The report was released on Tumblr through the US director of national intelligence (DNI). It claims to include “as much information as possible”.
An introductory note from the director of national intelligence (DNI) said: “In June 2013, President Obama directed the intelligence community to declassify and make public as much information as possible about certain sensitive US government surveillance programs while protecting sensitive classified intelligence and national security information.
“Today we are releasing information related to the use of these important tools, and will do so in the future on an annual basis.”
The NSA released a similar report in August 2013, saying agents only touched 0.00004 percent of the world’s web traffic. The latest information has been criticised as being vague because of the loose grouping of surveillance requests.
While transparency reports from firms such as Google count the individuals affected, the NSA report groups people together as one target. The report finds the NSA admitting to requesting access to a total of 89,138 ‘targets’, but that would need to be extrapolated for real accuracy.
The report covers national security letters and requests made under the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which are the ones that service providers have fought to disclose. The report says that US authorities issued around 19,000 National Security Letters and around 40,000 requests for target information.
Richard Salgado, Google’s director for law enforcement and information security asked for more clarity in a blog post: “The government has chosen to disclose an estimated number of ‘targets’ that it has surveilled, rather than the number of ‘accounts’ at issue.
“In our methodology, and that used by other companies, we each would count the number of accounts impacted by a particular surveillance request. The government could provide more meaningful transparency by specifying the number of accounts too.”
But Salgado said that despite his reservations it is a move in the right direction. “I’m excited to see how far this debate has come; a year ago almost no one would have imagined that the federal government would release data about its national security demands to companies,” he added.
“These steps show that national security and transparency for the public are not in competition. We also hope that governments around the world will follow the lead of the US government and be more open about the national security demands they serve on service providers and put out comparable transparency reports. Congress and other governments around the world should build on these steps.”