Internet companies like Google and Facebook will be allowed to disclose more information about government demands for user data under a new agreement announced Monday.
Under the deal, announced in a joint statement by Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, companies will be allowed to make public ”more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests, and the underlying legal authorities.”
Previously, companies as varied as internet service providers like Verizon or search engines and social networks like Google and Facebook were prohibited from releasing all but the most vague information about demands for user information made by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The new rules are part of a package of modest reforms to domestic surveillance programs announced by President Barack Obama earlier this month. Those reforms came amid growing public outcry about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs, following the massive leaks last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“The declassification reflects the Executive Branch’s continuing commitment to making information about the Government’s intelligence activities publicly available where appropriate and is consistent with ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States,” Holder and Clapper said.
In a statement to TIME, Apple spokesperson Kristin Huguet said that the company “has always believed that our customers have the right to understand how their personal information is being handled. We applaud the Administration for taking this important step toward greater transparency, and we thank the Justice Department for considering Apple’s point of view as it reached this decision. Our business does not rely on collecting large amounts of personal data about our customers, which is reflected in the figures we are releasing under the new transparency rules.”
Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who has been a fierce critic of the NSA, called the announcement “a positive first step.”
“The American people have a right to know this basic information about the scale and scope of government surveillance requests,” Wyden said in a statement. “Similarly, innovative American companies should be allowed to respond to their customers’ legitimate demands for transparency. Though there is still a great deal of work to do, today’s announcement is good for American companies and the Americans they employ and serve.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the agreement was “a victory for transparency and a critical step toward reining in excessive government surveillance.”
“Companies must be allowed to report basic information about what they’re giving the government so that Americans can decide for themselves whether the NSA’s spying has gone too far,” ACLU attorney Alex Abdo said. While lauding the move, Abdo also called for further reforms. “Congress should require the government to publish basic information about the full extent of its surveillance,” he said, “including the significant amount of spying that happens without the tech companies’ involvement.”
And Washington state Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee who proposed similar reforms last year, called on Congress to codify them into law. “Congress can no longer take ‘trust us’ as an answer,” he said in a statement. “We need to strongly reform government surveillance programs so they are limited, transparent and accountable.”
-with reporting from Alex Rogers