Facing criticism, Google appeals to the US government to let it share more about data requests it receives

Facing criticism, Google appeals to the US government to let it share more about data requests it receives ...

Today Google published a missive directed at the US Attorney General, and Robert Mueller, current head of the FBI. The letter details, again, Google’s stance on the PRISM story and its various allegations, and makes a very serious request: the company wants to share, as part of its larger transparency efforts, the “aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures” that it receives.

Doing so would partially remove the cover of the US government’s information gathering programs, helping the public to better understand how often Internet companies are forced by law to hand over information concerning users.

PRISM, a program that 8 large US-based Internet companies are said to take part in, has been difficult to nail down; the Washington Post first indicated that it provided the government with “direct access” to servers of companies, but that claim has since been walked back.

What appears clear is that PRISM is a likely legal program — though its constitutionality will surely be tested — by which the government absorbs more data on private Internet usage than was previously understood. Google, facing acrimonious allegations due to its listed participation in PRISM, wants to absolve itself of being slack in the protection of its users, passing the onus to the first party in the brouhaha: the government itself.

The letter is required reading. [Bolding: TNW]

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

Google rejected allegations that it provides the US Government with direct server access, but in a public statement, CEO Larry Page called upon the US to take “a more transparent approach” in regards to its requests.

For more on PRISM, visit the links below:

Top Image Credit: Maria Ly

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