The Obama administration will allow telecommunications companies to reveal the number of national security orders they receive from the government and detail how many of their customers are being targeted, officials announced Monday.
“The administration is acting to allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, and the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests including the underlying legal authorities,” Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a joint statement.
“Through these new reporting methods, communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers,” the officials added.
In the wake of leaks by government contractor Edward Snowden, tech companies urged the administration to let them outline the amount of information they had provided to the government in connection with terror investigations.
Tech companies feared that a lack of transparency would make them look complicit in the government's surveillance.
The president also called for the NSA to receive secret-court approval when tapping into the phone metadata and for the government to eventually stop storing the controversial information. Holder will report back to Obama on how to store the data by the end of March.
The agreement with the federal government allows the tech firms to provide more information on the number of secret court orders and national security letters they have received, but still limits how specific those figures may be.
Technology companies can reveal the number of court orders and national security letters separately, but only in bands of 1,000. If the tech firms lump those requests for data together, they may report figures in increments of 250.
Still, civil liberties groups said the latest reform didn't do enough to overhaul NSA practices.
“Today’s announcement by the Justice Department, allowing Internet companies to publish more than they ever have before about what they do and don’t do when the government demands their users’ data, represents an important victory in the fight for greater transparency around the NSA’s surveillance programs,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute.
“However, this is only a single battle won in a much longer fight, because the commitment made by the Justice Department today falls far short of the level of transparency that an unprecedented coalition of Internet companies, privacy advocates and civil liberties organizations called for,” he added.
This story was published at 5:12 p.m. and was updated at 5:28 p.m.