Our commitment to transparency

Posted by Bart Volkmer on February 11, 2014

Like many tech companies, we occasionally receive requests from governments seeking information about our users. Today, we’re announcing a set of principles outlining our commitment to protecting your privacy when handling requests.

Transparency is one of these core principles. We believe everyone has a right to know how much information the government is seeking from online services. This lets users fight back against improper requests, helps prevent abuses of power, and allows for a more informed public debate. That’s why, whenever possible, we give users notice if their accounts are identified in law enforcement requests. And that’s why we were one of the first companies to publish Transparency Reports showing exactly how many law enforcement requests we’ve received.

Until recently, however, the US government prevented online services from disclosing anything about national security requests they received (that is, requests under the national security laws instead of requests from law enforcement officials investigating crimes). We don’t think that’s right, and we filed a legal brief asking the court to let online services report the exact number of national security requests they receive.

Last month, the government changed its position and now allows services to disclose the number of national security requests they receive — in bands of 250. This is a step in the right direction. But it doesn’t go far enough, especially for services that receive only a handful of requests or none at all. We believe the public has a right to know the actual number of requests received and accounts affected, and we’ll continue to push to be able to provide this information.

Today we also updated our Transparency Report for 2013. In addition to providing detailed data about the law enforcement requests we received over the past year, we’ve now included additional information about national security requests. As you’ll see, we received 0-249 national security requests in the last twelve months. We wish we could be more specific, but that’s all we can report right now. We’ll continue to advocate for more transparency and keep you updated about our progress.