Technology companies have reached a deal that will allow them to tell the public in greater detail about the spying-related court orders they receive, the US Justice Department has said.
The agreement would settle demands from companies such as Google and Microsoft for more leeway to disclose data about the court orders.
Companies will now be able to disclose:
- The number of orders from the government related to criminal activity
- The number of orders from the government related to secret national security
- The number of orders from a foreign intelligence service related to secret national security
- If those orders covered just email addresses or further information
White House spokesman Jay Carney said US surveillance agencies were only interested in collecting data on people considered a threat to the United States.
Mr Carney told a regular White House news conference:
British intelligence agency GCHQ "would not confirm of deny the existence of the Squeaky Dolphin" monitoring programme, according to NBC News.
A spokesperson for the agency said GCHQ's work was "carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework”.
This "ensure[s] that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee", the spokesperson added.
The "Squeaky Dolphin" monitoring programme said to have been utilised by British intelligence agencies was not intended to spy on individuals, but it could be done, cyber-security experts told NBC News.
The experts claimed the documents released by Edward Snowden show GCHQ had to have been either physically able to tap the cables carrying the world’s internet traffic or able to use a third party to gain physical access to the massive stream of data.
Once the information has been gathered, intelligence agencies have the ability to extract some user information as well, they added.
US and British intelligence agencies have plotted ways to gather data from Angry Birds and other smartphone apps that "leak" users' personal information onto global networks, the Guardian reported, citing documents obtained from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The US National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), had tried to exploit "leaky" smartphone apps that could disclose users' locations, age, gender and other personal information, according to the newspaper.
British intelligence agencies have the capacity to monitor social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube by tapping into the cables carrying the world's internet traffic, according to documents obtained by NBC News.
The documents, reportedly taken from the US National Security Agency by whistleblower Edward Snowden, show British spies demonstrated a pilot programme to their US counterparts in 2012.
The programme, called "Squeaky Dolphin", was able to monitor YouTube in real time, collect addresses and some other user information.
According to the “Psychology A New Kind of SIGDEV [Signals Development] presentation, the Government was also able to take part in “broad real-time monitoring of online activity” of URLs “liked” on Facebook, Blogspot/Blogger visits and Twitter.
US whistleblower Edward Snowden has alleged the National Security Agency went beyond its brief to spy on German companies that were rivalling American firms.
The intelligence leaker, who has been granted a year's asylum by Russia, made the claims in an interview with German television channel ARD.
Mr Snowden said: "If there is information at (German engineering firm) Siemens that (the NSA) think would be beneficial to the national interests, not the national security, of the United States, they will go after that information and they'll take it."
Mr Snowden also said during the interview that he believed US officials wanted to kill him after his series of leaks exposed a wide scope of security practices, including the bugging of international leaders' phones.
The head of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has objected to President Barack Obama's proposal for the government to give up control of the storage of the telephone records of millions of Americans it holds as part of its counter-terrorism efforts.
Signaling congressional opposition to the change, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the intelligence panel, criticized the idea of moving the data out of government control.
"I think a lot of the privacy people (advocates) perhaps don't understand that we still occupy the role of the 'Great Satan,' new bombs are being devised, new terrorists are emerging, new groups - actually, a new level of viciousness. And I think we need to be prepared," she told the NBC.
Obama on Friday announced an overhaul of U.S. surveillance activities following criticism sparked by the disclosure of leaked documents exposing the wide reach of National Security Agency spy efforts.
The European Commission has said Barack Obama's reforms to the National Security Agency are important steps towards rebuilding trust between the US and the EU.
President Obama has ordered curbs on practices by US intelligence agencies, promising to end the surveillance of world leaders and officials.
"Trust in EU-US data flows has been affected by revelations on these intelligence programmes and needs to be rebuilt. In recognising the need for action, President Obama has taken important steps towards rebuilding that trust," a statement from the European Commission read.
The existence of the US intelligence programme that allegedly monitored the phone of Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel concerned EU leaders.
A legal adviser to Edward Snowden said that Barack Obama's swipe at the US intelligence leaker in his speech on Friday was "unnecessary" and framed the privacy issue in a false way of making people choose between liberty and security.
Jesselyn Radack, the national security and human rights director at the Government Accountability Project, said: "His unnecessary swipe at Snowden for the unauthorized disclosure ... was really unwarranted."
President Obama unveiled NSA reforms during a long-awaited speech that balanced pledges to increase privacy protections with a warning that intelligence gathering would continue.