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Freed by a recent legal deal with government lawyers, major technology firms released new data Monday on how often they are ordered to turn over customer information for secret national security investigations — figures that show that the government collected data on thousands of Americans.
The information disclosed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr provided expanded details from 2012 and 2013 showing how often the government has sought information on the firms' customers in counter-terrorism and other intelligence-related probes. The companies provided limited information in the past about government requests for data, but a new agreement reached last week with the Obama administration allowed a broadened, though still circumscribed, set of figures to be made public.
Seeking to reassure customers and business partners alarmed by revelations about the government's massive collection of Internet and computer data, the firms stressed details indicating that only small numbers of their customers were targeted by authorities. Still, even those small numbers showed that thousands of Americans were affected by the government requests approved by judges of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
In a company blog post, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith scolded the U.S. and allied governments for failing to renounce the reported mass interception of Internet data carried by communications cables. Top lawyers and executives for major tech firms had previously raised alarms about media reports describing that hacking by U.S. and U.K. spy agencies and cited them during conversations with U.S. officials during President Barack Obama's internal review of planned changes to the government's spying operations.
"Despite the president's reform efforts and our ability to publish more information, there has not yet been any public commitment by either the U.S. or other governments to renounce the attempted hacking of Internet companies," Smith said in a Microsoft blog release. Smith added that Microsoft planned to press the government "for more on this point, in collaboration with others across our industry."