A coalition of major tech companies and civil liberties groups on Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling for more transparency around a secret government program that collects private Internet and phone records.
In the letter, the companies argued that Americans "are entitled to have an informed public debate" about surveillance requests. The coalition urged the Obama administration to allow companies to report statistics about the number of national security requests they receive from government agencies for customer data.
The letter said the government should also issue its own regular “transparency report” disclosing that information.
"Basic information about how the government uses its various law enforcement–related investigative authorities has been published for years without any apparent disruption to criminal investigations," the letter reads. "We seek permission for the same information to be made available regarding the government’s national security–related authorities."
"This information about how and how often the government is using these legal authorities is important to the American people, who are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those authorities and their use," the letter continues.
The companies addressed their petition to President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, NSA Director Keith Alexander, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and several members of Congress. It was signed by more than 20 tech companies and more than 30 trade associations and privacy groups -- including Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Silicon Valley and privacy groups do not always agree over privacy matters, making their partnership for the letter noteworthy. Tech companies have faced widespread criticism in recent weeks over reports that they cooperated with the government's secret Internet spying program. Many tech giants have expressed frustration that they are prohibited by law from discussing the surveillance orders.
The nation’s largest phone companies, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless, were not part of the coalition that signed the letter and have remained quiet about their participation in the NSA surveillance program, as Time.com noted.
The letter comes amid growing calls for greater disclosure about the NSA's collection of phone and Internet records and a push from members of Congress to scale back the surveillance program, which was disclosed last month in a series of stories in The Guardian and Washington Post.
Disclosure: The Huffington Post is owned by AOL, which also signed the letter and has denied knowledge of the NSA surveillance program.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the court order for telephone records was part of a three-month renewal of an ongoing practice, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130606/us-nsa-phone-records-feinstein/" target="_blank">the Associated Press reported</a>. "It’s called protecting America," Feinstein said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank">said</a> "the administration owes the American public an explanation of what authorities it thinks it has."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) thought everyone "should just calm down." "Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand this isn't anything that's brand new," Reid <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank">said</a>.
Former Vice President Al Gore
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in a statement: "This type of secret bulk data collection is an outrageous breach of Americans’ privacy."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/lindsey-graham-nsa_n_3396223.html?1370532449" target="_blank">"glad" the NSA was collecting phone records. </a> "I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist phone with somebody in the United States," Graham said in an interview on "Fox and Friends."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) also claimed that reports of the NSA collecting phone records was "nothing particularly new." "Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this," Chambliss<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank"> said</a>. "And to my knowledge we have not had any citizen who has registered a complaint relative to the gathering of this information."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) found the NSA collecting phone records <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank">"troubling."</a> "The fact that all of our calls are being gathered in that way -- ordinary citizens throughout America -- to me is troubling and there may be some explanation, but certainly we all as citizens are owed that, and we're going to be demanding that," Corker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank">said</a>.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)