A coalition of major tech companies and civil liberties groups on Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling for more transparency around a secret government program that collects private Internet and phone records.
In the letter, the companies argued that Americans “are entitled to have an informed public debate” about surveillance requests. The coalition urged the Obama administration to allow companies to report statistics about the number of national security requests they receive from government agencies for customer data.
The letter said the government should also issue its own regular “transparency report” disclosing that information.
“Basic information about how the government uses its various law enforcement–related investigative authorities has been published for years without any apparent disruption to criminal investigations,” the letter reads. “We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government’s national security–related authorities.”
“This information about how and how often the government is using these legal authorities is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those authorities and their use,” the letter continues.
The companies addressed their petition to President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, NSA Director Keith Alexander, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and several members of Congress. It was signed by more than 50 tech companies, trade associations and privacy groups — including Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Silicon Valley and privacy groups do not always agree over privacy matters, making their partnership for the letter noteworthy. Tech companies have faced widespread criticism in recent weeks over reports that they cooperated with the government’s secret Internet spying program. Many tech giants have expressed frustration that they are prohibited by law from discussing the surveillance orders.
The nation’s largest phone companies, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless, were not part of the coalition that signed the letter and have remained quiet about their participation in the NSA surveillance program, as Time.com noted.
The letter comes amid growing calls for greater disclosure about the NSA’s collection of phone and Internet records and a push from members of Congress to scale back the surveillance program, which was disclosed last month in a series of stories in The Guardian and Washington Post.
Disclosure: The Huffington Post is owned by AOL, which also signed the letter and has denied knowledge of the NSA surveillance program.