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June 14, 2013

Letter Urges Companies to Inform Public of Government Requests under PRISM

Washington, D.C. – In the wake of revelations that the National Security Administration obtained private user data from several technology companies, Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino sent a letter to AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Pal Talk, Skype, Yahoo!, and YouTube, urging them to continue to press the U.S. government to allow them to disclose PRISM requests as part of their regular reports on government requests. Human Rights First  calls on the government to use its discretion to provide permission to assure Americans that their personal data is safe from indiscriminate surveillance. The letteralso details ways in which companies can inform the public of how their data and privacy is safeguarded.

“Your users deserve to know more about the policies that guide your response to national security-based government requests for information about them, and recent news about the NSA PRISM program has heighted the need for you to demonstrate that you’re safeguarding their privacy,” wrote Massimino in the letter. “At stake is not only a fundamental right but your reputations as companies committed to protecting it.”

Human Rights First notes that in order to assure Americans that these companies are respecting users’ right to privacy, companies should: continue to press the government to permit disclosure; determine what they can legall disclose; and, publicly explain their efforts to safeguard people’s data and right to privacy.

In order to address general concerns regarding companies’ approach to government requests for user information, Human Rights First urges companies to answer the following questions:

  • What steps do  you take to assess  and minimize the potential risks to users?
  • How are decisions made about when to challenge requests, and to what extent does the law limit your ability to do so?
  • What processes do you have to determine the legality of government requests?
  • Do  you monitor the handing of these requests to gauge the cumulative impacts on users’ privacy rights
  • If so, do you adjust policies and procedures accordingly?

“As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in her landmark speech on internet freedom, for new technology companies, user trust is crucial: people need to know that you’re acting as responsible stewards of their personal information,” wrote Massimino. “The NSA PRISM program raises serious concerns about the extent to which you can be responsible stewards of private information.”

For more information or to speak with Massimino, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrights.com or 202-370-3319.