Linkedin joins data privacy row

Linkedin, the business networking service, has mounted a legal challenge to the US government’s ban on disclosing the number of national security-related data requests it receives.

US organisations are allowed to publish the total number of data requests, but cannot break the figure down to reveal the number made by security services.

Linkedin said the legal situation “makes no sense”.

Many other technology companies agree.

Linkedin, based in Mountain View, California, published its half-yearlyTransparency Report on Monday covering the period from 1 January to 30 June.

The report said the company had received 83 government requests for data over the six-month period – 70 from the US government.

But because Linkedin wanted to break the US figure down into types of request, such as “subpoena” or “search warrant”, it had to exclude the number of national security-related requests.

In a letter to members on Tuesday, Erika Rottenberg, Linkedin vice-president, said the ban was “the source of great disappointment and frustration to us”, arguing that the requirements “are not legally warranted and make no sense”.

The company supports the Digital Due Process Coalition in calling for reform of the US Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which dates from 1986.

The coalition, which includes big technology companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, argues that the ECPA has been outpaced by the rapid rise of the internet and the explosion of digital data.

As a result, an individual’s right to privacy is being undermined, it argues.

“Linkedin strongly believes that all data, whether analog or digital, whether stored on personal computers or in the cloud, is subject to full US constitution fourth amendment protection, no less than documents stored in a file cabinet or in a desk drawer,” Ms Rottenberg wrote.

The fourth amendment to the US constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”

Linkedin’s legal challenge takes the form of a petition in the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking the ability to publish the number of national security-related data requests.

It has also filed a so-called amicus brief in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.