from the it’s-a-lot dept

Mike Masnick
Tech Dirt
February 4, 2014

Last week, we noted that the DOJ and various internet companies had settled their legal fight, which concerned whether or not those companies could reveal the details of how many FISA Court requests they were receiving — both in terms of how many requests they get and how many accounts are impacted. While Apple immediately released their information, showing very few users impacted, the real interest is in Google, Yahoo and to a lesser extent Facebook. Both Google and Yahoo have put out blog posts updating their transparency report numbers. It appears that both Yahoo and Google decided to go with “option 1” in the settlement, which lets them reports NSLs and FISA orders separately, but in bands of 0-999. The big question with both of them, really, was just how many “customer accounts affected” there would be, and both presented numbers (in slightly different formats). Google showed a historical listing:


Yahoo just shows the most recent:


If you remember, by choosing Option 1, the companies could actually show “customer accounts affected” — if they had chosen option 2, they could only show targeted customers, leaving out others who were affected as well. But here we see that the number of accounts affected is much larger than the number of requests (though certainly much more limited than some assumed). That is, these requests (which make up a large part of the PRISM program) impact thousands of users, but not millions or “all” as some have claimed. There may very well be other NSA surveillance programs that get data from many more users, but not the FISA orders/PRISM.

Concerning the Google data, you can see that there’s been a pretty big increase in the number of users impacted over the past few years, peaking at the end of 2012, but that drop in the beginning of 2013 may be just seasonal. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see that a much larger number of Yahoo accounts have been impacted. Of course, for all we know, there could have been one FISA order to Google and three to Yahoo and then the number of accounts impacted would be around 10,000 per order. But, without more granularity, it’s impossible to tell.

What does seem clear is that there are about 40,000 accounts on Yahoo or Google to which the NSA/FBI and others in the intelligence community have access.

Update: Facebook and Microsoft have updated their info as well and it’s more of the same:

Microsoft, a major surveillance partner for the US government, received fewer than 1,000 orders from the Fisa court for communications content during the same period, related to between 15,000 and 15,999 “accounts or individual identifiers”.

The company, which owns the internet video calling service Skype, also disclosed that it received fewer than 1,000 orders for metadata – which reveals communications patterns rather than individual message content – related to fewer than 1,000 accounts or identifiers.

[….] Facebook disclosed that during the first half of 2013, it turned over content data from between 5000 and 5999 accounts – a rise of about 1000 from the previous six month period – and customer metadata associated with up to 999 accounts.

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