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Tech giants refuse to keep government requests for data secret

Posted May 2, 2014 3:19 PM CDT
By Victor Li

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Some of the largest tech companies in the country are no longer complying with secret governmental demands for information and data. Instead, they’re actually telling users that they’re being targeted.

The Washington Post reported that companies including Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google have taken a stand against governmental agencies that surreptitiously demand information on users. According to the Post, tech companies are trying to distance themselves from the federal government, especially in light of last year’s revelations about the National Security Administration's warantless surveillance program.

“Later this month, Apple will update its policies so that in most cases when law enforcement requests personal information about a customer, the customer will receive a notification from Apple,” company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said. According to the Post, Microsoft and Facebook are also working on similar updates to their policies. Meanwhile, Google and Twitter have already had policies in place informing targets of governmental inquiries—however Google recently updated their policy to exclude notification for when there’s imminent risk of physical harm to a possible crime victim. Cellular carriers, on the other hand, such as AT&T and Verizon, usually do not inform customers that they have been targeted by a governmental request for data.

Prosecutors are not happy with this development, maintaining that tech companies are giving targets valuable time to destroy electronic evidence before it can be gathered. “These risks of endangering life, risking destruction of evidence, or allowing suspects to flee or intimidate witnesses are not merely hypothetical, but unfortunately routine,” Department of Justice spokesman Peter Carr said to the Post.

The updated policies would not affect data requests approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which are secret by law. The policies also don’t cover national security letters, which are FBI administrative subpoenas that cover national security investigations and carry binding gag orders.

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