Google opens up more about FBI requests for personal info

Google opens up more about FBI requests for personal info

Summary: Although previously prohibited, Google can now include more data about information requests from the FBI in its transparency reports.


In a follow up to its annual transparency reports, Google is shedding a little more light about what it does with requests for personal data from law enforcement officials.

Specifically, the Internet giant has issued a memo explaining what it does about a National Security Letter (NSL) from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

See also: Google: User-data requests have increased by 70 percent since 2009 | Google Transparency Report: U.S. accounts for most user data requests

Richard Salgado, legal director for law enforcement and information security at Google, explained in a blog post on Tuesday that data related to NSLs will be included in the Transparency Report from now on.

Here's a snippet about how NSLs are submitted to Google, according to Salgado:

When conducting national security investigations, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation can issue a National Security Letter (NSL) to obtain identifying information about a subscriber from telephone and Internet companies. The FBI has the authority to prohibit companies from talking about these requests. But we’ve been trying to find a way to provide more information about the NSLs we get—particularly as people have voiced concerns about the increase in their use since 9/11.

As a starting point for disclosing information about NSLs, Google charted how many NSLs it received since 2009, as seen in the table above.

However, Salgado admitted that these are only numerical ranges, citing that the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department have "concerns" about releasing exact numbers that could reveal sensitive information related to ongoing investigations.

Nevertheless, Salgado asserted that Google will continue to publish ranges about NSLs from the FBI on an annual basis.

Image via The Google Public Policy Blog

Topics: Government, Google, Government US, Legal, Privacy

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • a range... (?)

    Those aren't ranges, they're jokes. How the heck to do you extract any trends from nebulous information like that? Useless.
  • a range... (?)

    Those aren't ranges, they're jokes. How the heck to do you extract any trends from nebulous information like that? Useless.
  • a range... (?)

    Those aren't ranges, they're jokes. How the heck to do you extract any trends from nebulous information like that? Useless.
  • Google's Table

    It's good you eventually clarified that this was Google's table. When you started off using the word "we've" I thought this was ZDNET's table.

    As someone else pointed out, the data from the table is pretty useless. If they gave us actual numbers instead of vague ranges, it would mean something. Needless to say, Google is trying to convince us that they are being "open" but are not really.

    People and businesses alike need to realize that if you put something online, especially if it has words like kill, bomb, murder, steal, destroy America, etc. The government is going to be reading what you put online. I'll bet the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is reading this post right along with you. Sorry, guys; I'm trying to make a point that will reduce your workload overall if people reasize that this is the way the Patriot Act works.

    Let's go back to one GLOWING example. A young couple used British slang in a PRIVATE tweet within the confines of England in talking about their upcoming trip to the U.S. They said they were going to "destroy America" and "dig" up Marilyn Monroe's grave. Needless to say, when they arrived in America, they were wisked away by some agency that is already reading this post. They were sent back to England. The fact that the general population were "amazed" that DHS even had access to the tweet was incredible. Of course, some thought the couple were stupid (agreed). I don't think that anyone should ever think that, what goes out into the Internet (or any other transport to the ether) is private.

    People complain about the lack of privacy and what they consider their "rights". I'll bet none of these people ever really read the constitution of the U.S. There is no "right to privacy" mentioned. The closest you can get to that is the right to be secure in your own home which now translates to "requiring a subpoena". Of course, there are conditions the courts have added that negate that as well.

    Only laws can guarantee privacy. Has anyone read the terms of service (TOS) of any of the major public cloud players? Does it say that the data you have uploaded, either personal or corporate or even governmental) is going to be kept private? Or do they say the opposite.

    So my point is, if all it takes is a subpoena from the FBI or from anyone to release your uploads to someone, why wouldn't this get through the skulls of people who think that this can't happen? Why would Google really put out gobbledy-gook to confuse people into thinking that this is not a common practice? I don't need strange tables to make the assumption that anything I put "out there" can turn around and bite me someday. What scares me is that I use credit cards to buy stuff. It doesn't matter if the store is brick-and-morter or online or both. All it takes is a company to decide that they want to put this data out on the Internet (Google, for example only) and there is a way to get this information legally. You just need a law and an administrative subpoena and that's it. Of couse, finding a third-world country with starving Google employees and most data could be bought for almost nothing. I don't think it's been tried yet, but it could be interesting.

    If you don't want to find information about you on the front page of a national newspaper, be VERY careful where you put it. Especially if the place you are putting it claims an unrevokeable right to do anything they want with your information.


    P.S. To the DHS employees reading: if you don't understand any of this you can drop me an email.
  • Yikes

    I hope nobody is looking at my search history. That wouldn't be good for anyone.
    Burger Meister