Google: We’re No NSA Stooge and We’ll Prove It if the Feds Let Us

  • Share
  • Read Later
Andrew Kelly / Reuters

Google's logo is seen at the company's New York City office.

Tech giant Google has asked the U.S. Department of Justice for permission to publish the number of national-security information requests it receives from the government, including requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), one of the laws at the heart of recent blockbuster disclosures about government data collection.

Even before the recent government-snooping controversy erupted, civil-liberties advocates had asked the company to disclose FISA requests in the interest of transparency. But Google has a self-serving reason to do so as well: the tech giant wants to prove that it doesn’t give the government “unfettered access” to the vast trove of data it collects from its users.

Google has come under scrutiny following recent reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) uses a secret surveillance program, called PRISM, to examine data — including e-mails, videos and online chats — that it collects from the tech giant and other big Internet companies. But Google is currently prohibited from revealing anything about the requests it receives for such information, because FISA requests — the method by which the government asks for the data — are classified top secret, and Google is barred from discussing them.

(MORE: Here’s Why Google Is Buying Waze, a Red-Hot Mobile Traffic App, for $1 Billion)

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond asked to be allowed “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.” The letter, published on Google’s blog, is noteworthy in itself, because it is the first time Google has even acknowledged that it receives national-security FISA requests.

Google’s letter to the government is part of the company’s campaign to push back against media reports that it provides the government unfettered or “direct access” to the company’s servers, or to data it keeps on the activities of its users. In a blog post last Friday, Drummond and Google CEO Larry Page denied giving the government such access and said that the company had never even heard of the PRISM program. It’s important to note that Google is not requesting permission to publish the content of FISA requests, only the number and scope of the requests it receives.

Civil-liberties and privacy experts praised Google’s request. “President Obama said he wanted to have a debate on privacy and security,” said Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights group focused on civil liberties, free speech and privacy law. “If we’re going to have this debate, transparency is vital. And one piece of this puzzle would be transparency reports about the FISA requests that Google and other companies receive.”

(MORE: Apple E-Book Trial, Week 2: The Emerging Case for Letting Apple Off the Hook)

In its letter sent to the government Tuesday, Google said that if it were able to publish information about the FISA requests, it would become evident that it pushes back against the government. “Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made,” Drummond wrote. “Google has nothing to hide.” Drummond added: “We have consistently pushed back on overly broad government requests for our users’ data.”

As e-mail, instant messaging, Web search and social networking have become everyday aspects of American life, privacy advocates have expressed concern that these massive troves of data could be used by the government to track American citizens. The recent NSA disclosures have reinforced these fears, threatening to undermine confidence in companies like Google that rely on consumers to trust that they will safeguard user data. “Google has worked tremendously hard over the past fifteen years to earn our users’ trust,” Drummond wrote.

On Google’s Transparency Report, the company discloses the number of removal and user-data requests it receives from copyright owners and governments. In March, Google began publishing information about the number of National Security Letters (NSLs) that the company receives as well as the number of user accounts affected by those requests. (NSLs are requests for communications records by the FBI when the government is conducting national-security investigations. FISA requests involve user content and are even more sensitive than NSLs.)

(MORE: Viewpoint: Obama’s ‘Patent Troll’ Reform: Why Everyone Should Care)

Following Google’s letter, Microsoft issued a similar request. “Permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and scope of national security requests, including FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) orders, would help the community understand and debate these important issues,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. “Our recent report went as far as we legally could and the government should take action to allow companies to provide additional transparency.”

Facebook followed suit shortly thereafter. “We would welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook around the world a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond,” Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel, said in an e-mailed statement. “We urge the United States government to help make that possible by allowing companies to include information about the size and scope of national security requests we receive, and look forward to publishing a report that includes that information.”

Internet-policy expert and privacy advocate Lauren Weinstein urged the government to grant the Internet companies’ request. “When the government doesn’t trust the American people even in broad terms to know the aggregate scope and numbers of national security FISA demands — we’re not talking about details — it becomes impossible for Web firms that receive these demands to prove their innocence in the face of conspiracy theories and other false accusations,” Weinstein said in an e-mail. “The appearance is that the government is simply concerned about how we’d react to the knowledge. The American people are not the enemy.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment.

Update June 12, 12 p.m. EST: A DOJ spokesman says: “The department has received the letter from the chief legal officer at Google. We are in the process of reviewing their request.”

95 comments
gold_tracker
gold_tracker

LOL Got to love the irony in the request itself.

canidsong
canidsong

Really Google? You'd like to disprove the claims that this PRISM program is not a blanket surveillance platform by publishing data which you admit is incomplete, and does not cover requests not part of a criminal investigation:

http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/userdatarequests/faq/#cover_all_categories


How then shall we conclude that the numbers include requests made under PRISM, who's roll in and constraint to the investigation of specific crimes can not currently be determined?

TonyE
TonyE

Even if they did publish it, how would anyone know that any of what they publish is true? How do we know that the government did not ask Google to submit that request, so that the government could approve it for the purposes of having Google publish bogus request statistics? That's the problem with this whole monitoring scandal, secrecy, and backroom deals. Even if you do tell the truth, nobody will know if you are telling it because you have completely undermined your own credibility.

Along a similar line of thought, if Google is legally prohibited from acknowledging any of this, why were they suddenly able to publicly submit this request?

jellyfish
jellyfish

It's kind of funny isn't it.  The 1984 big brother is here, they are spying on us, and for the most part Americans are ok with it.  The government did this by saying we have a "nubulous enemy",  3rd world guys living in caves, and we have to spend trillions of dollars trying to "get them" before they get us.

So we have to save all your phone calls, data, and anything else we can find, so these "cave guys" can't hurt you.  

Also, yeah we had to get these "cave men" using Preditor Drones because these "cave guys" sometimes come out of there caves and it's fun to terrorise them , they don't know when some missile will fall from sky and get them and anyone with them, children, wifes, etc.  Colateral damage.  

We are the "good guys", and we would never use any of this info against any USA citizen unless you say something against our government, and we have to check all of you, to make sure you don't say anything against our government.  Also, we have to make sure you are paying all your taxes, and not doing anything else that is against the law. 

th3qu33k
th3qu33k

Publish it all.  You share everything with the men who pay you for it.  I'm your product and I won't give you anything if you can't be bothered to protect this country from fascism.  Stand up for what is not evil or we will shut you down by finding similar services that will.  You do what you do better and greater and ahead of its time.  Lots of geeks are turning.  You need to fix this, now.  Geeks made you and geeks can take it all away.

tiredofitall
tiredofitall

DEAR DIM-WITS: 

IF WE COLLECTIVELY BOYCOTT GOOGLE WE CAN PUT THEM OUT OF BUSINESS.

Anyone remember Ghandi and the British Empire? HELLO? Speak with your WALLET???

tiredofitall
tiredofitall

F-U Google.

Everyone should start boycotting these companies, PERIOD. NO CUSTOMERS=NO PROFITS=GOOD RIDDANCE.

Use Start Page....



e

soshaljustic
soshaljustic

The idea total unabashed honesty has somehow escaped the whitewashed facade of privacy is simply horrifyingly funny. Do you really mean: (1) what I document on technology that plugs into a cable, has an address, can be traced, may actually be read and stored by someone? (2) what I say over a phone that also plugs into a cable, has an address, can be traced, may actually be heard and printed/stored by someone? To think I was homeless for six years, lost and alone, felt degraded and rejected by my society, I can now feel very much a part of society, just by affording a phone, computer; uncle sam is showing me he really, really loves me and needs to hear, read what I have to say and think! AWESOME! lol

magnetik
magnetik

I bet this was all a part of the narrative in case the story got blown.  Why would all of them basically answer in the same roundabout way  originally and deny knowing anything? and now they are saying basically the same thing again..asking the NSA to show us weren't lying to the american public.   They know it would be a death sentence for their companies if they've given access to all of our records while preaching privacy.. that had to have a plan B. Don't trust any of them.

virrtual2013
virrtual2013

...and on that note of hacking. What or Who's to say that when all this data is being saved to the NSA servers that it will be safe? The question is will the data be exposed to the internet or will you tuck it away on servers that are not online? What's worse is that they will have collective data from all these companies in "ONE" place. 

lamho338
lamho338

Can some one please explain why it's OK for private companies to collect/analyze/share our web traffics and phone calls and it is not OK for the government to do use such data for national security purposes?

I certainly don't want 1984 but are we selectively outrage here? Do you know that Google monitor your web search behavior for advertising purposes in real-time. Do you know what FB is tracking your web-usage to figure out what you are looking for so they can sell you. Do you know what telco track your call pattern also for advertising purposes.

And by-the-way, Google is not asking your for permission to track your web-search. They just do it.

clitlover1234
clitlover1234

Corporations and Google hate Americans.  They want all labor in China. facts are facts.

clitlover1234
clitlover1234

People don't trust Google.   They are number one on giving information to the feds,   Google is the dirtiest bunch of low lives on the planet.  If there mother had the last dollar on the planet they would take it.  Bin L was a class act compared to Google.

clitlover1234
clitlover1234

Hey google you lying trash bags.  How come you don't call my business phone anymore.  Tired of me telling you to go f yourself.  Google is and everyone of there low life employees are nothing but lying scum bags.   f google.

twominutes
twominutes

Don't forget Google was collecting Data as they drive taking pictures for street view.

virrtual2013
virrtual2013

So if Google is protesting that they didn't share the information, would it be fair to say that the Govt...Stole it!? Its not like the security systems of America are impenetrable. Any 12 year old kid with time on their hands and chocolate could break the firewalls of American Security. Or could it be that Edward didn't know as much as he thought he did...things that make you go hmmm. One thing to note that hasn't been mentioned is that; what is the difference between what the Murdochs did and what our Govt did. For starters they out right lied to our Congress that these types of acts weren't going on. Look, if anyone doesn't know that they don't have the ability to break any chat session online and posses the ability to hack a server or two needs a slap on the back of the head, Gibbs? Go ahead and snoop away to keep our nation safe, we don't care, but don't lie about it! Plus you said that you were going to be more transparent...remember Obama?

DaveyDoughnut
DaveyDoughnut

What a crock! They're all jumping on the bandwagon like it's the thing to do.. The Fed will never let them reveal that data. It's a safe bet to make the statement that they push back etc. And as for the FISA court. Can you say star chamber? I'm surprised that no one has latched onto that phrase yet. It's really rather apt.

I wonder if the hacks at anonymous have up their sleeve next some big old DDOS attack?

Good luck folks.

ralph.dratman
ralph.dratman

How can the Feds prosecute Mr. Snowden when it is obvious how much good his revelations have already done for the country and the world? And exactly the same is true of Bradley Manning. When people risk their careers and their freedom to reveal something their consciences won't allow them to keep hidden, it is contrary to the whole original idea of America to put them on trial.

anointing
anointing

Oh my god, I work with Google every day and they are the biggest violators of privacy in the public sector. If their request is granted they will simply pick and choose which FISA Demands they expose to us. I wouldn't trust Google any more than I do this corrupt government we have.

Google and the others have been busted by the leaked information already, now they are trying to hide the truth we have been given by this brave American. Google is just as big a liar and deceiver as the NSA and the present Administration.

JeffVachon
JeffVachon

In '06 my Gmail was shut down for three days.  When I tried to log in my computer would crash!  When I had others from around country try to log in for me their computers would crash!  A computer tech asked me "are you being investigated by the government?"  meekly replied, "well, maybe".  I am a Libertarian and satire writer.  Don't tell me nobody's snooping!

BeanCube
BeanCube

We can see such a Zionist style coercion in massive scale, so you know what is going on in Israel.

jb1111
jb1111

Hi Obama !!

Hi James Clapper!!

Hi Google Guy!!

Hi NSA !!

How are you Boys doing tonight ?

Say, Could you cut in on my Mom's Computer and tell her that I

will be home in an hour or so ?  Thanks a BUNCH, Boys.

Hope you are having a FUN Time listening in on all of America tonight.

Isn't this FUN?  We are all just one BIG HAPPY Family!

Carry on with your SPY STUFF, BOYS.

 

steven.l.starr
steven.l.starr

@jellyfish I have been on every news site covering this story, particularly to read the comments call it a manual form of "analytics" and what I see is not a bunch of Americans that are "Ok" with it. What I see is a bunch of Americans preparing for a revolution. 

99% of all comments and I am reading all of them are angry.

virrtual2013
virrtual2013

@lamho338 That's just it lamho338, its not that they are collecting data for advertising or national security its the fact that they have lied about it. Look, they have been telling people not to do things for centuries and what happens? People still do it. So, it won't matter if they tell us that they are watching and that you better not do it, cause will catch you, and they will. Remember, they never say that a criminal is smart, do they? People like a thrill and when you factor in that they are watching makes it more interesting and tempting for criminals. It's a cat and mouse game to them and they are conditioned for that. People gotta have a hobby and Cops and Robbers have been around for centuries. Look at it this way, they say not to speed and yet, people still drive fast. It's gonna happen so, let the games begin as they say, ;-)

anointing
anointing

@clitlover1234 You got that right, I keep telling everyone that if the feds allow this Google and others will simply pick and choose which reports they release, pretty simple ah?

anointing
anointing

@DaveyDoughnut Even if they do Davey, these Internet companies will still pick and choose which reports they share with us, so nothing will be settled here.

anointing
anointing

@ralph.dratman Yes sir, this is exactly how the Nazi's treated their citizens when they stood up against their lies.

twominutes
twominutes

@anointing Don't forget Google collects data as they drive to take pictures for street view.

anointing
anointing

@JeffVachon Same thing is happening to me right now Jeff, never an issue until I recently revealed some info I obtained about a government official. It appears as though an American can not speak without their words being judged by the government.

jb1111
jb1111

@JeffVachon 

So glad that the ACLU filed their suit today !!

It's gonna be FUN.

AnnaMoss
AnnaMoss

@twominutes @anointing The google street view and all this internet stuff will seem like mole hills when you find out what the domestic drone program does. Those things can literally see and hear every single moving object within several miles of it's sensor array. What Snowden uncovered is nothing compared with what else already exists and flies in the sky. You don't have to log in to have every word and action tracked. All you have to do is exist. 

anointing
anointing

@twominutes @anointing I know, I read a news report that said they had plead guilty to using their street view as a front for collecting electronic data from Internet users where they traveled to get their street view images.

BeanCube
BeanCube

@jb1111 @BeanCube  

I just want to point out who are monopoly adviser roles in Washington to make their spies rule everything in our country this day.

soshaljustic
soshaljustic

@AnnaMoss @anointing @twominutes I would consider having fits over this except I already have too many seizures. Not worth it. B'sides, I obey the law and act as if I already am in the public domain. Nothing new to me, been this way since homelessness. Guess that was a turning point in my life, living without walls and no privacy.

AnnaMoss
AnnaMoss

@anointing @AnnaMoss @twominutes Yeah, but now, with these predator drones equipped with missiles and high powered lasers, the moment you even think of making a move to resist you will be :adjusted" in whatever way Obama's supercomputers have decided. 

JeffVachon
JeffVachon

@anointing @JeffVachon Anointing we must guard what we say here!  The walls have ears you know!  Nonetheless, we are living in an apathetic society.  We have become sheep in a government full of wolves.  I'm hoping America will stand up to the tyranny!!!

anointing
anointing

@JeffVachon @anointing It's pretty bad Jeff when an American has to watch what he says in fear the government will twist the words to make them mean whatever they want it to. We had better do something this time or forever hold our peace.

I took a survey today in the town I am in and I learned that most are not concerned enough about this to even talk about it in the real world.

They took the social out of society, put it in a machine and call it social media. Now people have lost their humanity and don't know how to act in the real world.