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Privacy group hopes to spur company user notice on government data inquiries

A privacy group launched a campaign to get information technology and Internet communication service providers, like Skype, Verizon and MySpace, to tell their customers when the government requests information about them.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation in early April calling on “companies to stand with their users when the government comes looking for data.” It urged companies to notify customers when government information requests are made and promised to grade companies on how they provide the information.

To earn the organization’s top “gold star” rating, for instance, a company would make an enforceable promise to let its users know when government entities request data, unless providing that notice is prohibited by law or court order. “This commitment is important because it gives users a chance to defend themselves against government requests. In most situations, a user is in a better position than a company to challenge a government request for personal information, and of course, she has more incentive to do so,” said EFF.

The EFF gave Twitter a gold star rating. It said although the company doesn’t promise to notify its users about government requests in its terms of service or privacy policy, it notes in its law enforcement guidelines that it is company policy to notify users of requests prior to its disclosure unless a court order or law prohibits it. “Twitter went even further earlier this year when it pushed back against a Department of Justice gag order so that it could inform several users that their data had been sought in the Wikileaks investigation,” said EFF.

Google, it said, received “half a gold star,” because, although it doesn’t promise to notify users about government data requests in its service or privacy policies, it notifies users whenever it can if the request affects them personally.

EFF said promising to give notice “should be an easy commitment to make — the company doesn't have to take a side, it merely has to pass on important information to the user.”

It noted that other high-profile Internet companies -- Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, Microsoft, Myspace, Skype, Verizon, and Yahoo – in particular “can do more to give you the chance to defend your privacy against government overreach.”


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