Microsoft and Yahoo push for Prism transparency

Snooping

Declassified documents will show US government's legal justification for Prism

Microsoft and Yahoo are pushing US officials to ease restrictions that stop them discussing the National Security Agency’s controversial data gathering operation, Prism.

Along with Apple, Yahoo and other major tech companies, the two firms have been accused of giving the NSA "direct access" to user information, such as emails and Skype calls. All have denied the accusations, but gagging orders prevent any of the firms addressing the allegations in any technical detail.

Redmond has written to the US attorney general, Eric Holder, calling on him to lift the gagging order that stops the firm detailing government requests for data.

Microsoft made a similar request to the secret court overseeing the data requests last month, asking for permission to spell out how many requests related to standard criminal investigations, and how many came from the NSA.

"Numerous documents are now in the public domain. As a result, there is no longer a compelling government interest in stopping those of us with knowledge from sharing more information," wrote Microsoft’s general counsel, Bradford Smith.

Smith slammed the government for its apparent slowness in responding to requests for greater transparency and said the delays were damaging to the US Constitution.

"This opposition and these delays are serving poorly the public, the government itself, and most importantly, the Constitutional principles that we all put first and foremost," he said.

Secret documents declassified

Yahoo, meanwhile, has won a legal fight meaning papers detailing Prism from a 2008 court case will be declassified.

In the 2008 case, Yahoo vigorously challenged the NSA’s broad surveillance proposals but was overruled in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The case is seen as pivotal to Prism’s establishment, and Yahoo has said the papers will demonstrate how the US government legally justified its broad surveillance plans.

"Once those documents are made public, we believe they will contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy," said the firm.

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