Google Asks the U.S. Government to Let Them Be More Transparent About National Security-Fueled Data Requests

    June 11, 2013
    Josh Wolford
    Comments are off for this post.

Google has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Mueller – one that they’ve just made public on their public policy blog. The letter asks the U.S. government to let Google publish the aggregate numbers of national security requests (including FISA disclosures) in the company’s Transparency Report – that’s the purpose of the letter. The purpose of making it public, on the other hand, is to further distance themselves from the controversy surrounding PRISM and the large-scale NSA surveillance initiative that was first unearthed earlier this week.

Google, along with other high-profile tech companies like Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft, were associated with the recently-leaked PRISM documents, which appears to show some worrisome handholding between the companies and the U.S. government. Data-mining, surveillance – it’s all there. And the leaks indicate that Google et. all provided a backdoor into their data for the National Security Agency to walk right through.

Google was quick to deny any involvement.

“First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government – or any other government – direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday,” said Google CEO Larry Page in a statement.

Nice statement, and it mirrors one made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Basically, “we are learning about this at the same time you are.” Page’s blog post addressing the so-called PRISM program was notably titled “What the…?” But to its veracity? Well, only time will tell on that front.

Anyway, Google is now going on the offensive in the fight to rid their name from the PRISM connection.

“Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue. However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation,” says Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond in the new letter.

To this end, Google wants to be able to give just a little bit more information in their Transparency Report – just a number pertaining to how FISA-backed requests they receive. Not the content or any specifics, just the aggregate totals.

Here’s the letter to Holder and Mueller, in its entirety:

Dear Attorney General Holder and Director Mueller

Google has worked tremendously hard over the past fifteen years to earn our users’ trust. For example, we offer encryption across our services; we have hired some of the best security engineers in the world; and we have consistently pushed back on overly broad government requests for our users’ data.

We have always made clear that we comply with valid legal requests. And last week, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that service providers have received Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests.

Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue. However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.

We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.

Google appreciates that you authorized the recent disclosure of general numbers for national security letters. There have been no adverse consequences arising from their publication, and in fact more companies are receiving your approval to do so as a result of Google’s initiative. Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security.

We will be making this letter public and await your response.

David Drummond
Chief Legal Officer

This is Google going on the offensive. And it’s a big deal. It would force (at least in theory) the U.S. government to give up a bit of the secrecy associated with its data requests. Up until now, of course, that secrecy has been nearly absolute.

  • toto

    It’s time for the webmaster community to band together and start bashing Google. We the webmasters, programmers, computer repair people made those f..ers what they are! We brought them the regular surfers, nobody else. Bash Google wherever you can. Get rid of that privacy nightmare called Chrome and use Bing. Bing’s search results are more accurate. Google is the head of the snake. They know every f..ing thing about us.

  • Name

    If we read about these types of programs back in the 1980’s, we would have thought the reports were talking about China, East Germany, or the Soviet Union. We would be shocked and outraged. We would rail against those countries. But here we are today, talking about this in the United States of America. It is happening to us and it will only be getting worse.

    The sad thing is that our country really is founded on good principles. Yes, we have made many mistakes, but at our core, the ideas found within the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are good. What is even more sad is that our people truly want to believe in our leaders and government. Yet, time and time again they have lied to us and let us down.

    Make no mistake about it – the chess pieces are being moved. Government spying, excessive taxation, massive unemployment, solidification of a two-class system, destruction of the family unit, our rising police state, expansion of our government, our state of perpetual war, robotics, etc. All of these things will converge at some point. God save us when that happens.

    Every major empire has fallen. Why are we so arrogant to think that ours wouldn’t?

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    It doesn’t appear that any of you are reading what Google is trying to do. They are trying to make all government requests transparent and provide this in public reports to prove that Google has not been secretly giving information to the NSA and that this wiki-leak is causing alarmist to think in extremes and assumptions are being made about companies that are likely not even true. All Google is trying to do is prove that they have nothing to hide and that they aren’t releasing tons of information to NSA like people have been assuming. I say, “Go Google”. They have done a good job of keeping the information highway unbiased and a free enterprise. I think Google is on our side.

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