Source: U.S. seeks compromise on companies' NSA data requests

Story highlights

  • Google, Microsoft want to release certain stats on NSA surveillance requests
  • Court has given government a Friday deadline to respond
  • Source: Government willing to release these stats, but not company by company
The U.S. government wants to declassify certain broad statistics about its electronic surveillance programs, hoping to prevent Google and Microsoft from releasing more-detailed information about government data requests, CNN has learned.
The government on Friday is expected to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court -- the secret court overseeing the programs -- to accept its plan as a compromise, a U.S. official with knowledge of the plan said.
In the compromise, the government would release how many metadata requests, broken down by types of requests, it has made of telecommunications and Internet companies, the official said.
Metadata includes time and duration of calls, and other basic information -- not the actual substance of the information, which would require a separate search warrant.
The court gave the government until Friday to come up with a position on Google and Microsoft's request to release, on their own, statistics on the metadata requests the government made of them under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The data would be broken down by request type -- such as whether they were made through criminal investigations, FBI national security letters or court orders.
Microsoft lashed out at the government's moves to limit how much data the companies can release.
Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, in a blogpost said the company would stand with its rival Google to challenge the government and "will move forward with litigation in the hope that the courts will uphold our right to speak more freely."
The companies have engaged in talks with government lawyers for weeks. Smith said the companies want to "publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email," separate from metadata requests. He said the companies believe such information can be published without putting national security at risk.
Smith said the companies "remain concerned with the Government's continued unwillingness to permit us to publish sufficient data relating to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders...We believe we have a clear right under the U.S. Constitution to share more information with the public. The purpose of our litigation is to uphold this right so that we can disclose additional data."
The government opposes releasing how many requests it makes to each company. It hopes that the solution it will propose Friday -- releasing statistics on request types in the aggregate, but not company by company -- will suffice.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Thursday that the government would seek to declassify broader statistics.
"Our ability to discuss these activities is limited by our need to protect intelligence sources and methods," he said. "FISA and national security letters are an important part of our effort to keep the nation and its citizens safe, and disclosing more detailed information about how they are used and to whom they are directed can obviously help our enemies avoid detection"
The surveillance programs were brought to public light through leaks to media outlets by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who fled the United States and is now in Russia under temporary asylum. He faces espionage charges.