Google asks the U.S. to lift gag order on national security requests

Google asks the U.S. to lift gag order on national security requests

Summary: In an open letter to the United States Attorney General and the director of the FBI, Google’s Chief Legal Officer says that the government-ordered nondisclosure agreement on legal demands for information is “fueling speculation” and that claims made in the press are exaggerated.

TOPICS: Security, Google

“Google has nothing to hide.”

That’s the key message Google’s Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, tried to communicate in an open letter to United States Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The company’s reputation for protecting user information took a beating last week when the Guardian and the Washington Post published bombshell stories based on leaked PowerPoint slides. The Post claimed, based on the Top Secret documents, that the National Security Agency and the FBI “are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies,” including Google and its subsidiary YouTube. AOL, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft (and its subsidiary Skype), PalTalk, and Yahoo were also named directly in the Guardian and Post stories.

The original published version of the story said that Google and the other large tech companies “participate knowingly” in the widespread spying operations, which fall under a program known as PRISM. Subsequent revisions to the story backed off those claims, and a follow-up story in the Post acknowledged that the “direct access” claim was “technically inaccurate,” but the damage was already done.

According to Google, the government’s insistence on absolute secrecy for national security requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is compounding the problem and damaging Google’s reputation.

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.

If the request is granted – a very big if, indeed – Google would be able to include those details in its transparency reports. Microsoft has a similar reporting program, as does Twitter.

Topics: Security, Google

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  • I think the cloud may be breaking

    Even if obama steps forward and admits they wiretapped the big internet pipes without these companies knowing (which appears to be the case), and they promise not to do it again, it shows that it can be done, and many will not trust the cloud anymore.
    This could have serious implications for the cloud and the economy.
    • DrWong: "I think the cloud may be breaking"

      Doubtful. Most citizens in the U.S. simply don't care and will continue to use the online services that they have been using.

      And for those U.S. citizens that do care, what can they do about it? What percentage of U.S. citizens are capable of managing their own email servers, file servers, web servers, etc.? And switching from Skype or Google Voice to one's landline phone, cell phone or smartphone wouldn't change anything as these services were also monitored.

      IMO, this is a public relations effort from Google designed for damage control.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • So what is Facebook and Microsoft trying to control?

        Facebook and Microsoft join call to disclose FISA requests
    • @DrWong

      As much as I agree with you, I have to disagree.

      As @Rabid Howler Monkey pointed out, most don't care about this. And businesses are more concerned about saving a buck than anything else.

      How many science fiction writers (Philip K. Dick comes to mind) warned about things like this? We freely give away our personal information and sacrifice our privacy for the sake of convenience. But we have gotten so used to it (myself included) that it's highly unlikely that this revelation will change society's behavior as a whole.
  • Watergate, really?

    In Watergate, people in the president's re-election campaign broke into the headquarters of the opposing party. Then, the President and the White House engaged in a multi-year cover-up to hide the facts in the matter, with just about everyone in the White House lying about it repeatedly.

    The Attorney General (a new one, the first one resigned in shame) appointed a Special Prosecutor. When he got too close to the truth, Nixon demanded that the AG fire the prosecutor. When he refused, Nixon fired the AG and his assistant.

    Most of the what's left of the US election laws were written in response to Watergate; the "Committee to Re-Elect the President" did everything, legal, illegal and unethical to achieve their goal.

    In the end, 69 White House folks were charged with crimes, 48 of them convicted (including two Attorneys General). The president was named as an "unindicted co-conspirator". He resigned in shame.

    Watergate was in a league of it's own. This is T-Ball compared to Watergate's World Series.
    • That's a bunch of bull!!!

      It might be true that, breaking into an opposing party's headquarters might be illegal, and should be prosecuted to the maximum extents of the law.

      But, that's a very tiny case compared to what the NSA collection and compiling of data is about.

      The Watergate case was about simple espionage between political parties. The NSA data collection scheme is about the violation of the highest laws of the land, specifically the constitution and it's 4th amendment. In essence, the NSA was illegally collecting data on all Americans, without due cause and against the will of the people, and against the constitution. NSA was in violation of the highest law of the land, while Watergate can be reduced to a simple burglary, which was blown out of proportion because of all the lying that ensued. The NSA violation of the people's rights, is many times bigger than a "simple" burglary, which, for all intents and purposes, didn't amount to much more than politics gone awry. Violating the 4th amendment should be punished with long-terms in prison, and loss of all rights, and loss of jobs, even the loss of the heads of the NSA and the people in the administration who allowed and encouraged those constitutional violations, and perhaps even the president should be brought up on charges. Nixon resigned in shame, but, if it is discovered that Obama authorized or initiated the NSA "spying" on Americans, then he needs to be indicted and brought up before the highest court in the land, and even sent to prison if it's found that he was in fact culpable for the violations of our rights. Resigning should not be enough for violating the people's constitutional rights.

      Comparing Nixon's simple crime to that of the NSA/administration violations of people's rights, is equivalent to comparing a child stealing candy from a store to what Bernie Madoff did. (If you don't know about Bernie Madoff, look it up).
  • Not to sound paranoid

    But Google could be floating this open letter knowing that the government is going to say no. There is no way in hell the government is going to allow even more of this program to be exposed. Everyone knows this.

    They'd get to hide behind the government's gag order while salvaging a bit of their reputation. On the other hand it could be true, we simply have no way of knowing. That's the truly sad part.
  • Good article Ed

    This is a classic case where businesses are bound and gagged by the government and it puts them in quite a bad light.
  • Well done Ed!

    It's good to see someone finally stands up to the matter!
  • only criminals

    hide in the dark. The government says it needs to keep everything secret, for our own good. It says that even letting us know they are spying on each of us hurts their efforts to protect us.

    Why do I feel I need more protection from them, then from anyone else?
    • Most people...

      ...don't want every detail of their lives to be public knowledge. To that extent, we're all hiding in the dark to one extent or another.
      John L. Ries
      • It's called "privacy".

        People's secrets, dark or not, is their own business, and none of the government's business. If it's not unlawful, then government has no right to people's personal secrets. Hiding in the dark, no matter the extent, is none of the government's business. As example, Kinky sex, or sexual preferences, or how many sexual partners one has had, is none of the government's business, and if someone mentions it on the internet or in a text, or during a phone call, it's still nobody else's business.
    • Exactly.

      This is why they're dismantling the Bill of Rights. Those are our protections against totalitarian government control. They're a nuisance to be overcome in the quest to have absolute control over the citizens of our nation and the world.

      Our government is literally doing all of the same things Hitler did prior to World War II. He enacted widespread spying on all German citizens. He covertly staged a bunch of mass shootings and atrocities, then forced everyone to register their guns "for their own protection." Eventually, he sent his troops door to door to collect all of the registered guns and took over the nation. German citizens were content with these events because he assured them that all of this was necessary for him to make Germany a safer place to live. Sound familiar?

      The NSA spying is just the tip of a really massive iceberg of public manipulation using fear. It's also been going on far longer than anyone believes. The Patriot Act and FISA courts were created as an afterthought to try to cover their butts if they got caught. Ask yourself why the Patriot Act was drafted days before 9/11. Why was Bush's speech declaring the war on terror created the day before 9/11? Document creation dates showed this. Why were the military jets, which were ready to shoot down the airliners far away from metro areas, ordered to stand down? Explanation? They knew about the attack in advance and allowed it to happen because it served their purpose of passing the Patriot Act, creating the DHS, and bypassing the Bill of Rights by creating the FISA courts.

      Here's another example. Why were two men dressed like CIA assassins filmed running out of the back of Sandy Hook by a news helicopter just before the police arrived? Why were all of the kids shot with an assault rifle when the mentally ill teen left his own assault rifle locked in the trunk of his car? Why were the videos of both of these facts never shown on national media? If they hadn't been leaked to the Internet, nobody would ever have seen the videos. The people making these long-term plans own the media which makes it easy to bury sloppiness in the execution of their plans. The citizens of this country refuse to believe that elements of our government are capable of killing children in order to achieve a goal. Yet, our government has killed massive numbers of children in every war we've ever fought. To the people making these plans, it's just more of the same justifiable loss. Nobody really wants to know the details of who gets killed for what reasons. Ignorance is bliss.

      Monitoring all communications in the world has made it easy for the government to have advance knowledge of events which they can use to manipulate the public with fear. Just look at who really gains every time one of these tragic public events happens. Our rights immediately get weakened and their power over us grows. We hear an immediate series of reactionary statements telling us this is why they need to monitor and control all of us, so they can keep us safe from these horrific events.

      What we really need is somebody to keep us safe from the government and the people pulling their strings.
      • I agreed with your first 2 paragraphs, then your conspiracy theories

        made whatever else you had to say, completely useless and without credibility.

        The NSA collection of communications of all Americans is an indication of a government agenda to control the people. But, that can stand on its own, without having to revisit or create new conspiracy theories. Credibility is gained when the facts are clear, and facts don't depend on conspiracy theories.
  • Wahaha

    I sell tin hats tin hats buy you tin hats here. Positively guaranteed to be utterly useless in case of mind control. Ah yes a little fresh air. Although i begin to wonder if this is paranoia or is everyone truly in need of a lawyer?
  • Bargain

    As a tip off that the WaPo story might might be slightly off the mark - the entire annual cost of PRISM was given on the slides to be $20 million. Each American F35A jet fighter costs over $150 million. Believe me, it costs more than $20 million to get two different U.S. government data bases to communicate, much less to search the total Internet.
    Interested Observer
  • If it's nothing...

    ...then what is that huge data warehouse in Utah for?
    Tony Burzio
    • It's all about "yada, yada, yada".

      And, it's not related to a Seinfeld episode.
  • speaking of transparency...

    when is zdnet going to have an ethics statement by it's authors like allthingsd does? it's right there at the start of every article. you know, stating the things that need to be stated, up front.
    i'm just dying to read yours.
    • speaking of transparency...

      So you couldn't scroll down to the bottom of this (or any other) article? Look in the prominent "About [author]" box and click Disclosure. Was that so hard?