Julie Jacobs, EVP, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, AOL's posts

Jun 5th 2014

Government Surveillance Reforms & a Public Advocate for Privacy

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the revelations about the extent of government surveillance on the Internet. Here at AOL, we look at this anniversary through the lens of our most important asset – our users. We have worked hard to preserve our users' privacy and to aggressively protect them from unnecessary demands for surveillance, and have joined together with other Internet companies to fight for meaningful reform. Together, we've accomplished a lot, but there's more work to be done. We have asked for a number of reforms regarding government surveillance, including the creation of a public advocate to protect the privacy interests of those under surveillance, and we're committed to the fulfillment of those reforms.

AOL has been, and continues to be, dedicated to the idea that our users should have as much information as possible about the demands AOL receives for user data from the government and law enforcement. We have, together with other Internet and technology companies, been actively working with Congress and the Administration on meaningful reform for government surveillance programs, and are pleased that there has been significant process on this issue, which is critically important for our industry. The principles we announced with other technology companies in December 2013 (www.reformgovernmentsurveillance.com) helped to shape the ongoing public debate about security, transparency, and government surveillance.

It is essential that we reform our surveillance programs. While we have made important strides in this effort with the passage of the USA Freedom Act in the House, we must ensure that any legislation considered by the Senate promotes transparency, ends the bulk collection of Internet metadata, and improves oversight and accountability of government surveillance programs. In addition, we believe that the creation of a Public Advocate for Privacy will help restore user trust in the Internet, in the government, and with our companies.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approves requests by the US Government to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches of individuals. Since 1979, the Government has made over thirty-five thousand applications to the FISC; of those requests, only a small fraction have been denied or modified.[1] Because FISC proceedings are confidential, it is impossible to determine the viability of those requests. Our country has a long established reliance on an adversarial system to ensure that a balance is struck between competing interests. In the case of government surveillance requests, we must balance privacy with national security. We recognize and respect the Government's important obligation to keep our country and its citizens secure, but believe that this goal can be achieved while preserving the time-tested principle of the adversarial system by creating a Public Advocate.

Several of the recent legislative initiatives in Congress include the creation of a Public Advocate for Privacy who would defend the legal interests of individuals subject to surveillance requests. The USA Freedom Act adopts a Public Advocate that merely provides input as an amicus only when (and to the extent) requested by the FISC. Under the more robust proposals, the Public Advocate would monitor the FISC docket and affirmatively litigate legitimate privacy interests under the Fourth Amendment and other laws, as part of the confidential FISC proceedings, unknown to those under surveillance.

To further the public discussion of this important issue, AOL asked our outside legal experts at Covington & Burling to look at this question and provide an analysis of the constitutional issues raised by the CRS. Their paper can be found here. It concludes that there is no constitutional barrier to a robust Public Advocate that can litigate on behalf of individuals subject to surveillance requests. We believe this conclusion supports the already strong policy arguments in favor of a strong Public Advocate, and that our users and their privacy rights would be well served by such an office. AOL already vigorously contests on behalf of our users any demands we believe are ambiguous or legally defective, and we believe that the more robust Public Advocate proposal in the surveillance reform legislation currently being considered by Congress will be an additional step toward protecting our users' privacy and security.

[1] The statistics referenced in this article are drawn from the Electronic Privacy Information Center. See Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court Orders 1979-2014, Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. (last updated May 1, 2014), http://epic.org/privacy/wiretap/stats/fisa_stats.html.

Feb 13th 2014

AOL Transparency Report

AOL is committed to protecting our users' privacy and to providing our users with as much information as possible about the demands for user data that AOL receives from governments and law enforcement. We recognize that the U.S. Government has an obligation to keep its citizens secure, but believe that this goal can be achieved while allowing transparency about government demands for user information. On January 27, the U.S. Government announced that it was relaxing its restrictions on the information that technology companies can provide to their customers about U.S. national security demands they receive. In response to this new policy, we are pleased to be able to release additional information relating to U.S. Government demands for AOL customer data that gives our users a more complete picture of these demands.

Specifically, the Government has agreed to new reporting guidelines about two types of legal demands that technology companies receive in national security cases: (i) legal orders issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA); and (ii) National Security Letters (NSLs), which are issued by the FBI and seek only non-content user information (more information about the Government's reporting guidelines is available here). Disclosures of these demands can be reported in bands of a thousand, starting with the band from 0-999, with a six-month delay for FISA information. The Government also requires us to delay by two years reporting on certain FISA demands received for new platforms, products, or services. Therefore, we cannot include in the below information the number of demands (if any) that might fall into this category.

The following tables detail the number of demands for data we have received from government authorities. The first table includes information on the FISA orders that AOL has received for non-content and content information. The second table provides information on the NSLs that AOL has received. The third table provides information on the legal demands that AOL has received from federal, state, and local authorities in criminal investigations (outside of the national security context). It is important to note that for this reporting period, AOL tracked only the number of demands we received, not the number of demands AOL actually responded to. AOL vigorously contests on behalf of our users any demands that we believe are ambiguous or legally defective.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA") Orders

Reporting Period Number Received Number of Accounts Affected
Non-Content Orders
July to December 2013 Reporting subject to six-month delay
January to June 2013 0-999 0-999
July to December 2012 0-999 0-999
January to June 2012 0-999 0-999
July to December 2011 0-999 0-999
January to June 2011 0-999 0-999
Content Orders
July to December 2013 Reporting subject to six-month delay
January to June 2013 0-999 0-999
July to December 2012 0-999 0-999
January to June 2012 0-999 0-999
July to December 2011 0-999 0-999
January to June 2011 0-999 0-999
National Security Letters ("NSLs")

Reporting Period Number Received Number of Accounts Affected
July to December 2013 0-999 0-999
January to June 2013 0-999 0-999
July to December 2012 0-999 0-999
January to June 2012 0-999 0-999
July to December 2011 0-999 0-999
January to June 2011 0-999 0-999
U.S. Federal, State, and Local Government Criminal Demands for User Data

Reporting Period Number Received Number of Accounts Affected
Demands for Non-Content Information
January to December 2013 3,260 7,495
January to December 2012 3,430 8.181
January to December 2011 3,841 11,277
Demands for Content Information
January to December 2013 632 947
January to December 2012 556 840
January to December 2011 543 892

The data clearly show that these demands for user data have impacted less than one hundredth of one percent of accounts. In addition, the number of accounts may not equal the number of individuals impacted, as users may have multiple accounts that are the subject of such demands.

AOL is pleased to be able to provide this information to our users; we are permitted to release data concerning FISA orders every six months, and we will continue to release transparency reports in accordance with this time frame.

AOL's ability to release this data is a positive step in the ongoing public debate about security, transparency, and government surveillance. AOL will continue to advocate for meaningful reform on these issues, as reflected in the principles we announced together with other technology companies in December 2013, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Administration and Congress on additional reforms that will ensure the privacy and security of our users.

Nov 8th 2013

Leigh Freund Promoted to Head of Global Public Policy at AOL

As the digital industry continues to evolve at a record pace and protecting our users remains front and center in our mission, it's important that AOL continue to work closely with regulators and lawmakers on new policies. I am thrilled to announce that Leigh Freund has accepted the role of Head of Global Public Policy at AOL in Washington, D.C. Leigh will direct AOL's policy strategy, working closely with government and industry partners on key issues, including patent reform and intellectual property, privacy, data protection, user transparency and Internet accessibility.

Leigh will partner with me and the senior management team to drive a leading voice on digital policy in Washington. Leigh's background on Capitol Hill and her intimate knowledge of matters faced by our advertisers, partners and consumers positions her well to help elevate our voice on issues with influencers.

Leigh has been with AOL 10 years, most recently as Vice President & Chief Counsel leading the AOL Advertising legal team. She provided advice and counsel on business strategy, commercial transactions, strategic acquisitions and complex advertising and technology agreements. Also during her tenure at AOL, she has worked closely with the public policy and privacy teams to promote and develop responsible data collection and management practices, user transparency guidelines and compliance with the industry's self-regulatory programs.

Before joining AOL in 2004, she worked as an Associate at K&L Gates where she counseled investment advisors, hedge funds and off-shore development funds on general corporate legal matters, and federal securities law disclosures and compliance issues. Earlier in her career, Leigh worked with Representative Fred Upton (R) from her home state of Michigan, first as his inaugural congressional intern and later as a member of the congressman's staff where she drafted policy papers and managed constituent affairs.

AOL's public policy office in Washington was established in 2009 following the spin out from Time Warner. We have a leading voice in the D.C. market, having worked closely over the past four years with government and industry partners on new policies, and we are a founding member of the Internet Association. I am excited for Leigh to step into her new role to build on AOL's public policy strategy with influencers.

Here's what Leigh had to say about her new role: "The complexities of the digital space require media and tech companies like AOL to have a voice in shaping intelligent public policy that can withstand the pace of innovation. While an employee of AOL, I am really working on behalf of our constituencies, including our advertisers, partners and most importantly consumers, on the issues that matter most to them."

Leigh is an active participant in several industry organizations devoted to compliance with key regulatory initiatives and principles, including the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA).

Leigh holds an undergraduate degree in political science from Kalamazoo College and a J.D. from Georgetown University.

Please join me in congratulating her in this next step in her long tenure at AOL.

Jun 18th 2013

AOL's Commitment to User Privacy

At AOL, we are vigilant about protecting our users' privacy. In the interests of providing a greater level of transparency regarding US Government demands for data, we sought and have obtained approval from the US Government to release the following data.

Over the six-month period from December 1, 2012, through May 31, 2013, AOL fielded in the range of 2000 to 3000 demands for user information from U.S. law enforcement at all levels, affecting in the range of 5000 to 6000 accounts. These demands for user information related to both criminal and national security matters and only impacted a tiny fraction of our users.

As we have previously stated, AOL does not provide any government agency with access to our servers. Also, AOL has not received the types of untargeted requests for business records that others reportedly have received.

AOL has only responded to lawful process relating to specific accounts. AOL scrutinizes each government inquiry to ensure strict compliance with legal obligations and rigorous protection of our users' privacy. We guard against overreaching by law enforcement and against overproduction of information. We produce the narrowest amount of data that allows us to comply with our legal obligations.

We will continue to operate with the utmost integrity to preserve the privacy of our customers' information and respect our legal obligations. We also believe that transparency on these issues is important, and we support the calls on many fronts for the government to allow providers to disclose more information about the types of lawful process requests we receive.

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