Google: Our transparency reports aren't enough; blame the U.S. government

Summary:In a giant middle finger to the U.S. Justice Dept., Google throws the government agency under the bus in a fight for First Amendment rights to disclose data request figures.

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One out of these four slides is classified, and can't be disclosed. Image: Google

Google isn't happy. Not one bit. 

The U.S. government has over the last three years doubled its requests for Google customer data, the search and Internet giant said in a blog post on Thursday.

The company displayed four important slides to reference the U.S. government's activities over the past four years: three of which show the extent of attempted government surveillance through "legal" means, and one that is entirely redacted.

Why? Because the U.S. government doesn't allow Google, or any other company, to disclose how many classified customer data requests it receives under the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

By the numbers:

  • U.S. government data requests have risen from 3,580 requests in July 2009, more than doubling in the January-July 2012 period. Since then, requests a year later have shot up to close to 11,000 for the first half of 2013.

  • The U.S. currently generates more data requests than any other country in the top five (India, Germany, France, the U.K., and Brazil) combined.

  • About 80 percent of all requests made by the U.S. government are valid, forcing Google to hand over "some data" back to the requesting federal law enforcement or intelligence agency.

  • In total: 68 percent are subpoenas, 22 percent are warrants, and 6 percent are "other court orders." The remaining 3 percent include pen register orders, and emergency disclosure requests, which can be invoked should there be an imminent risk to loss of life.

But, Google says, this isn't enough. There is still a gaping hole in the report — notably the requests submitted under the FISA law.

Richard Salgado, Google's legal director for law enforcement and information security, had some sharp words for the federal government reading in:

We want to go even further. We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies. However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive. Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But you deserve to know. 

The search giant continues its legal fight with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, along with other Silicon Valley giants , in efforts to have these figures declassified. 

Whether or not the secretive Washington D.C.-based court will drop the guise of "national security" remains to be seen. 

Topics: Google, Security

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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