Earlier this week, along with others in the industry, we called for greater transparency about the volume and scope of the national security orders, including FISA orders, which require the disclosure of some customer content. We believe this would help the community understand and debate these important issues. Since then, we have worked with the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice to try and secure permission to do this.
This afternoon, the FBI and DOJ have given us permission to publish some additional data, and we are publishing it straight away. However, we continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues.
Here is what the data shows: For the six months ended December 31, 2012, Microsoft received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts from U.S. governmental entities (including local, state and federal). This only impacts a tiny fraction of Microsoft’s global customer base.
For the six months ending December 31, 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received from any and all government entities in the U.S. (including local, state, and federal, and including criminal and national security-related requests) – was between 9,000 and 10,000. These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat. The total number of Facebook user accounts for which data was requested pursuant to the entirety of those 9-10 thousand requests was between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.
With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of one percent of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of U.S. state, local, or federal U.S. government request (including criminal and national security-related requests) in the past six months.
Several thousand accounts out of billions. That's not anywhere near the level that Greenwald purported. Nor is the information anything new: the NSA has been picking up a firehose of data from the main internet backbones of America for years, at least when Bush was in charge.
Despite that prohibition, shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush secretly authorized the NSA to plug into the fiber optic cables that enter and leave the United States, knowing it would give the government unprecedented, warrantless access to Americans' private conversations.
Tapping into those cables allows the NSA access to monitor emails, telephone calls, video chats, websites, bank transactions and more. It takes powerful computers to decrypt, store and analyze all this information, but the information is all there, zipping by at the speed of light.
"You have to assume everything is being collected," said Bruce Schneier, who has been studying and writing about cryptography and computer security for two decades.
The New York Times disclosed the existence of this effort in 2005. In 2006, former AT&T technician Mark Klein revealed that the company had allowed the NSA to install a computer at its San Francisco switching center, a key hub for fiber optic cables.
In other words, just because you forgot this was happening doesn't mean it wasn't happening. This has been public knowledge for eight years now.
So how is this Obama's fault again? And how is Greenwald's story a "revelation" again?