The Transparency Reporting Toolkit: Guide & Template

for Reporting on U.S. Government Requests for User Information

December 29, 2016

by Liz Woolery, Ryan Budish, and Kevin Bankston

ABOUT THE TRANSPARENCY REPORTING TOOLKIT
The Transparency Reporting Toolkit is a joint project by New America’s Open Technology Institute and Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. The purpose of the Toolkit is to make it easier for companies to create better transparency reports about government requests for user data. Similarly, by providing a template and best practices, the Toolkit aims to make it easier for new companies to begin transparency reporting. By following the recommendations in this guide, which are grounded in existing best practices, transparency reports can become more consistent, easier to understand, and more effective.

The Transparency Reporting Toolkit project currently includes:

  • The Survey & Best Practice Memos—A survey of 43 transparency reports, identifying best practices across eight different areas (March 2016)
  • The Reporting Guide & Template—This guide provides a practical starting point for companies that want to create or improve their transparency reports, including a model transparency reporting template for companies designing their first report (December 2016)

These components of the Toolkit build on our extensive research into transparency reporting. For the past three years we have surveyed transparency reports, hosted multiple workshops with representatives from academia, civil society, and a variety of internet companies, and conducted numerous interviews with transparency reporting leaders at many internet and technology companies. From this research we have identified the best practices and recommendations that are central to this Toolkit.

ABOUT THE REPORTING GUIDE & TEMPLATE
Through all of our conversations, it became clear that a wide variety of companies, those both big and small, wanted tools that could help them more easily create transparency reports that followed consensus best practices. This guide assumes familiarity with our eight-part Transparency Reporting Toolkit Survey & Research Memos, released in March 2016, which identifies best practices in reporting based on an extensive survey of current practices. This reporting guide and template is an extension of that work and provides practical assistance to help companies translate those best practices into their reports.

This guide is not legal advice. The best practices described here are largely based on practices observed throughout a range of existing reports. However, each company’s circumstances, market positioning, data collection, business models, and risks are different, and the decisions of when and how to produce a transparency report should be based on those unique factors. This guide can be a resource for companies as they work with their lawyers in responding to and reporting on government requests for user data.

We hope this template and guide helps companies as they seek to develop their transparency reports, and we look forward to working with them in further developing this resource. As companies work to implement this guidance, we encourage them to contact us to share feedback and update us on changes to their reports.

Feedback and other comments can be sent to transparency_toolkit@cyber.harvard.edu.

 

Last updated

March 8, 2017