Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Google Asks Government To Let Them Reveal How Many National Security Data Requests They Get

In an open letter to Attorney General Holder and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Director Mueller, Google asks the agencies to let them publish aggregate numbers about secret requests for digital surveillance. The letter cites the confusing reports on the level of access tech companies allow the NSA and the FBI following the PRISM leaks last week, saying that in the absence of being able to tell the public about the number and scale of requests they receive, it’s impossible to combat them:

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 has flatly denied that the government has direct access or a “backdoor” into its servers. In a blogpost suggestively titled “What the…?” last week from Google CEO Larry Page and David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer, say the tech giant provides “user data to governments only in accordance with the law” and their legal team “reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process.”

The government allowed Google to start reporting the number of national security letters they received requesting data earlier this year, but they are still barred from releasing information about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders. Without being able to include this information, it’s impossible for their transparency report to fully reflect the breadth of surveillance in Google services.

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