Google Now Includes National Security Requests in Its Transparency Report, But It’s Really UnspecificBy: Josh Wolford - March 5, 2013
Google has added another metric to its Transparency Report so users can identify one more manner in which the government is requesting their information.
Starting today, Google is now including data about National Security Letters on its U.S. Transparency Report.
National Security Letters (NSL) are a form of a demand letter that are used by the U.S. Government (mostly the FBI) to extract information from an organization in the name of national security. The kind of info requested in NSLs includes stuff like transactions, phone numbers, and email addresses.
In the period following 9/11, the FBI’s use of National Security Letters dramatically increased with the implementation of the Patriot Act.
The thing about NSLs is that they also come complete with a gag order (most of the time), so the companies who received the letter can’t discuss it with the users whose information has been requested. For the Transparency Report, Google has worked with the FBI to loosen this secrecy – ever so slightly.
The first thing that you’ll notice when looking at the new NSL stats is that they are unspecific – to a ridiculous degree. For instance, Google is only reporting the number of NSLs received in batches of 1,000. That means that every year on record (2009-present) has logged between 0 and 999 NSLs.
“You’ll notice that we’re reporting numerical ranges rather than exact numbers. This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations. We plan to update these figures annually,” says Google.
I guess something is better than nothing. Still, it’s a good step forward for the Google Transparency Report.