The Transparency Reporting Toolkit

Survey & Best Practice Memos for Reporting on U.S. Government Requests for User Information
Policy Paper
March 31, 2016

About the Transparency Reporting Toolkit

The Transparency Reporting Toolkit is a project by New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) and Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Using research on the current state of transparency reporting, the project aims to identify best practices, create a template transparency report, and establish reporting guidelines. These resources will be shared publicly to foster standardization in reporting and provide companies new to reporting with an easy-to-use set of tools essential to crafting their transparency reports.  

Download the Survey & Best Practice Memos | Download the Guide and Template (released December 2016)

Starting over two years ago, we began conducting interviews with companies about their processes for creating transparency reports in order to identify lessons that could be helpful to companies that had not yet created reports. Building off of that work, in November 2013, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, in conjunction with the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Open Technology Institute, the Global Network Initiative, and others, convened a dialogue at the University of California, Berkeley with academics, civil society, and representatives from a variety of Internet companies. That meeting was followed by an East Coast convening, hosted by OTI in July 2014, with strong civil society and academic representation. Those dialogues informed these materials.  

Read the blog post

About the Toolkit's Survey & Best Practice Memos

Those conversations highlighted a variety of practices, open questions, and tensions within the area of transparency reporting, as well as the need for tools that could aid in the creation and standardization of reporting. One tool highlighted as a priority for development was a template that would help companies standardize their reporting while engaging in best practices. But those standards and best practices needed to be identified first. We set out to scope the landscape of transparency reporting and identify best practices, which led to the creation of this document. We began by surveying reports from 43 U.S. companies reporting on requests for user data from government and law enforcement agencies in the U.S. From there, we identified best practices in reporting. The result is a nearly comprehensive survey of the state of transparency reporting by Internet and telecommunications companies in the U.S. during the first half of 2015.  

There are eight memos in the Transparency Reporting Toolkit, each surveying a different topic related to how U.S. Internet and telecommunications companies report on requests for user and customer information. These memos are limited to transparency reporting on data collection subject to U.S. federal and state laws. Transparency reporting on data collection from other countries presents a separate opportunity to examine current and best practices. However, given the complexity of legal processes, compliance, and definitions on a global scale, we have limited the scope of this survey to U.S. companies subject to U.S. laws and requests for user information.  

Each memo includes a survey of the current transparency reporting practices of 43 U.S. Internet and telecommunications companies. Each memo also highlights and explains the “best practices” in transparency reporting and identifies companies engaged in those practices.  

What's Next

Having surveyed the landscape of transparency reporting and identified best practices in reporting, we are working to translate that research into a template and guide to best practices. The result is The Transparency Reporting Toolkit’s Template & Guide to Reporting. With both the Survey & Best Practice Memos and the Template & Guide to Reporting completed, the final piece of the toolkit, the online portal, is on the horizon. Working with a Mozilla-Ford Open Web Fellow, we have started to build the interactive portal. This website will help companies create and publish reports in a format that utilizes best practices, help researchers translate existing reports into a standardized format, and help consumers of these reports make the best use of the data.  

Starting a Discussion

Over the past two years we have synthesized the various dialogues from our interviews and convenings and additional research into a document that surveys current practices and identifies the best practices of existing transparency reports. There is such a vast array of approaches and practices within current transparency reports that is impossible to address all questions or resolve all tensions. The Transparency Reporting Toolkit, including these Survey & Best Practice Memos and the attendant Reporting Guide & Template (forthcoming), is our attempt to start the discussion.  

 Survey & Best Practice Memos