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In May, the Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized Apple, AT&T, Verizon and Myspace for their lack of transparency on privacy policies and said the firms could be freely giving up user data to government requests. The digital privacy watchdog group advocates for clear documentation on user privacy and content guidelines by companies running online services.
Organizations should require a warrant for content of communications and tell users about government data requests, the EFF said. The organization said transparency reports and clear privacy guidelines should be made available to users and be easy to access and understand.
The EFF called out Facebook in its May report for failing to issue a transparency report outlining government requests for data. The social network was lauded by the EFF for clearly requiring a warrant from law enforcement when seeing the content of user communications. Other online services requiring a warrant include Dropbox, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Sonic.net, SpiderOak, Tumblr, Twitter and WordPress.
In its report, Facebook said it hopes to be able to provide even more information about the requests it receives from law enforcement authorities in future reports.
"As we have said many times, we believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent," Facebook said. "We strongly encourage all governments to provide greater transparency about their efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure."
The Facebook report does not provide data on the use of the national security letters. The documents, a provision under the U.S. Patriot Act of 2001, gives the FBI the authority to demand information for investigations impacting national security matters. The FBI's written demands for information using a national security letters is subject to a gag order, forbidding businesses from revealing it to the public.
Apple indicated in its transparency report issued in June that it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data from Dec. 1, 2012, to May 31, 2013.
Microsoft's transparency report, which covered 2012, indicated that it received more than 11,000 U.S. law enforcement requests for information or content data of users of its products in 2012. In March, Google also issued a report stating that it received up to 1,000 requests from the FBI and other U.S. agencies in 2012 for access to data stored in its cloud.