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WASHINGTON - Facebook and Yahoo asked a secret court Monday to allow them to disclose data on national security orders the companies have received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The two tech companies filed separate, similar motions Monday with the secret court that oversees that law. Two other companies, Google and Microsoft, have similar motions pending with the court.
All four companies were among several U.S. Internet businesses identified as giving the National Security Agency access to customer data under the program known as PRISM. Facebook and Yahoo say they want to correct false claims and reports about what they provide to the government. They argue they have a free-speech right to publish aggregate data on national security orders.
Revelations about the program by former NSA contractor Ed Snowden have prompted a broader debate about government monitoring and the privacy of Americans' communications.
Both Facebook and Yahoo said that they had released information on combined law enforcement and national security requests from the government, but have been prohibited from specifying the number of national security orders.
"In light of Facebook's over one billion active users and the generalized information included in the aggregate data, disclosure could not lead any user to infer that he or she is or has been the target of an order or directive," Facebook wrote it its filing.
In its own filing, Yahoo noted that Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper announced last month that he'll now release figures every year on how many new top secret court orders and national security letters are issued and how many people are targeted because of them. The company argued that the government release "undermines any argument that prohibiting Yahoo from publicly disclosing the same data would harm national security."
Yahoo spokeswoman Suzanne Philion said in an e-mail that although Yahoo and Facebook filed independent lawsuits, "these actions stem from a common interest in ensuring that we can provide the most accurate information to the public about the national security requests we receive from the U.S. government."
In a blog post Monday, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch wrote, "today we are joining others in the industry" in petitioning the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to let it disclose more information about national security-related orders.
Also Monday, Google filed an amended version of its original motion, reporting that negotiations with the government had reached an impasse. The company also asked that the court hold open arguments on its motion in public.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
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