Tech Companies Increasingly Telling Users When Law Enforcement Comes Asking For Data

from the good-for-them dept

In the past, we’ve noted that Twitter, alone among major tech companies, had made it a corporate policy to not just roll over when law enforcement came asking for user data, even alerting users that law enforcement was seeking their data, and giving them the chance to try to block the requests. Apparently, now a bunch of other big tech companies have started doing the same thing:

Google already routinely notified users of government data requests but adopted an updated policy this week detailing the few situations in which notification is withheld, such as when there is imminent risk of physical harm to a potential crime victim. “We notify users about legal demands when appropriate, unless prohibited by law or court order,” the company said in a statement.

Lawyers at Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are working on their own revisions, company officials said, although the details have not been released. All are moving toward more routinely notifying users, said the companies, which had not previously disclosed these changes.

“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.

If you’re looking for who to thank about this turn of events, there are two places to point. First: the good folks at EFF. For the past few years, it’s been publishing its Who Has Your Back? chart looking at how companies respond to government requests for data. Each year, this list has convinced more and more companies to improve how they protect their users, and how they push back on government requests. And, the reason why so many companies are rushing to change their policies is because the EFF is about to release its latest version. Yet another reason to be happy the EFF exists.

Second, of course, is Ed Snowden. While not entirely directly at issue here — since things like FISA Court Orders and National Security Letters are subject to gag orders barring companies from telling their users — the generally heightened interest in government access to information provided to internet services has certainly created a culture where these companies can’t get away with just rolling over for the government any more.

Of course, you could argue that it’s taken these companies too long to get here — and that’s absolutely true — but better late than never.

Oh yeah. Guess who’s really upset about all of this:

The Justice Department disagrees, saying in a statement that new industry policies threaten investigations and put potential crime victims in greater peril.

“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 spokesman Peter Carr said, citing a case in which early disclosure put at risk a cooperative witness in a case. He declined to offer details because the case was under seal.

Once again, it seems like the DOJ and others think that anything that makes their job harder is somehow wrong. But that’s incorrect. The whole point of protecting freedom is that it’s supposed to be hard for law enforcement to spy on people and arrest them. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,
Companies: apple, eff, facebook, google, microsoft, twitter, yahoo

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Comments on “Tech Companies Increasingly Telling Users When Law Enforcement Comes Asking For Data”

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24 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

unusual for a case to be ‘under seal’, i dont think!! the way things are going, i’m surprised any trial gets to be conducted outside of a locked room, with only certain people allowed access, like everyone on the prosecutors side and no one for the defendant! then add in how it’s heading yet closer to the police state that only those who are a part of it or support it think it’s ok and we have another dangerous situation brewing, just how it was in the dark ages. that led to revolt and it will do so again! being wealthy does mean you are right and shouldn’t mean you get to dictate the terms and the outcomes!!

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh, they don’t just hate the first amendment. They are heavily invested with branches like NSA and CIA and secret courts and stuff to get rid of the fourth amendment. They have factually killed off the sixth amendment (“right to a jury trial”) with the invention of plea deals that basically deny a fair jury trial to all but the ultra-rich, and with the invention of “secret courts” and other stuff.

They don’t believe in the separation of powers, they diddle in ex post facto law (retroactive immunity) and so on.

The Department of Justice considers the U.S. constitution a handicap and a historical curiosity rather than a goal and a standard. It routes around it whenever it can get away with it.

GuyFromV says:

Probationary Supervison

This is good for us only in the way in that it is good for the companies’ bottom line to do such for us. I’ll be giving them the Futurama Fry Eye for a bit longer. Also, remember that they should have been doing this for us in the first place. So, yeah…we’re cool man…just don’t f up anymore, dig?

David says:

Department of "Justice"

anything that makes their job harder is somehow wrong.

That’s exactly the problem.

It’s like building security removing support pillars that get in their way of protecting the building and its inhabitants from danger.

Though at the current point of time, we are getting actually closer to “if we replace the first two floors with air, we’ll be able to evacuate the building twice as fast in case of an emergency.” and so they are wiring up all the explosives they need for making everyone safe and free.

Department of Justice. No need to outsource terrorism and treason when we can abolish the U.S. way of life, the constitution and other tenets of freedom perfectly well by relying on local expertise.

Anonymous Coward says:

?We notify users about legal demands when appropriate, unless prohibited by law or court order?

This is 100% weasel clause, and Mike knows it. Ultimately, all it means is “When it isn’t subject to gag order, and most of it is, we will somehow find it inappropriate to inform you. Have a nice day.”

Anonymous Coward says:

If you’re looking for who to thank about this turn of events, there are two places to point.

Actually, I’d say if you wanted to give credit for this turn of events, it should be given to the US government. They single-handedly created the massive worldwide demand for increased privacy and better security. Of course, it’s the exact opposite of what they wanted to happen, but that’s beside the point.

For any NSA members who might be out there, I have a memo from 2,500 years ago: “Grasp at the shadow and lose the substance”.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'But there was a wolf this time, I promise!'

I wonder if they realize that after years of crying wolf with nary a fuzzy tail in sight, no one believes them any more when they claim that people/companies doing A, or B, or C will cause massive damage to national security, and/or threaten countless lives or whatever other boogieman they bring up?

At this point they should just come out and tell the public the real reasons, namely that people exercising and defending their rights makes their jobs harder. Pathetic and contemptible as the real reasons are, such a statement would at least be honest.

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