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NSA chief supports tech firms disclosing more on PRISM requests

July 19, 2013|By Jessica Guynn and Ken Dilanian
  • A poster during a protest in support of former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in Hamburg, Germany.
A poster during a protest in support of former intelligence contractor… (Angelika Warmuth / AFP/Getty…)

Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said he supports allowing technology companies to disclose more about their cooperation with national intelligence authorities.

Alexander made the comments during at a security forum at the Aspen Institute on Thursday.

"We just want to make sure that we do it right, that we don't impact anything with the FBI," Alexander said.

More than 60 technology companies including Apple, Google and Facebook and other organizations Thursday sent a letter to the Obama administration, national intelligence authorities and Congress urging more transparency on national security requests for user data.  

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The companies are asking permission to report on the number and scope of user data requests. The letter also asked Congress to pass legislation that would let companies disclose user data requests without having to first seek permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the requests.

Tech companies have been dealing with the fallout after a former security contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents that suggested they gave the government direct access to their servers as part of a top-secret surveillance program called PRISM.

The highly classified nature of the program has prevented the companies from detailing the extent of their involvement.

Some companies, including Apple and Facebook, struck an agreement with the government to release information about the number of government requests they receive but could not break down how many national security requests they receive.

Yahoo this week scored a rare victory when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered the Obama administration to declassify a 2008 court decision justifying the PRISM program.

"Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties and human rights," the letter said.

The National Security Agency is working to plug security loopholes that allowed Snowden to access and remove large amounts of top-secret information, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said at the security form Thursday.

The NSA is taking steps to address glaring weaknesses that allowed former contractor Edward Snowden to access and remove large volumes of top-secret information, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.

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