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

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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TOPICS: Google, Security
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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

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8 comments
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  • ... right

    now that the news exploded, google is pretending to be pissed off at the government. where were their balls to push back when the whole thing was being done hidden away from the spotlights? or when, if what reported in another article on this same zdnet, they were getting paid (in the millions of $$) to do this and conceal it?
    did they not imagine spying on their customers on such a grand scale would cause a ruckus and bite back with angry customers?
    isn't it a bit late to walk the talk "do no evil"?
    these are the fundamental questions the owners and directors of google should be assking themselves in their silicon valley mansions
    zoofy
    • ...because it was different

      Google complied with FISA/Warrant/Legal requests because they felt that they were legally obligated to do so, and that's all that they thought was going on. PRISM is run above Google and these other companies, so they didn't even know that they were being targeted and having their traffic spied on. Google was also unaware that the NSA was tapping into private fiber lines that they use to backup data, which is sent un-encrypted because, well, they thought they were private lines!

      So, you can see how they may feel differently between before, where they were just complying with warrants and lately, when now, when they've found out that all of their customers' data is being copied and their private lines are being compromised. Now they're pissed.
      Joz3d
  • we are doomed

    No one remembers anything. What we are doing along with GOOGLE'S HELP is imitate the Soviet Union's practices which led to their ultimate demise. No state can keep this level of paranoia eventually the gov't will collapse from it's own weight and useless fear. "Let's first do evil" Google says there are victims yet they gleefully signed up with our gov't so they could destroy our privacy without gov't interference.
    Our gov't has become the enemy, has become the terrorist organization we really need to worry about plus all we have are cowards in office and in law enforcement.
    oggilby
    • What nationality are the company founders..?

      I'm glad you brought Soviet Russia.
      MalcolmTucker
      • re: What nationality are the company founders..?

        One is from Michigan, and the other is a Russian Jew who emigrated as a six-year-old. What does any of this have to do with the price of liberty in China?
        JohnEightThirtyTwo
      • May I just say...

        As a huge fan of "The Thick of It," I am so glad -- whoever you are -- that you're impersonating (or really are?!) Malcolm 'F.' Tucker. It's an honor.
        zwhittaker
  • Don't release number of FISA requests

    "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.

    "They released the total number of requests. If specifically told they cannot release the number of FISA requests, then release the numbers on non-FISA requests.
    john-whorfin
  • Don't be fooled.

    Google is part of the government and operates as a front for the NSA. Don't let the trendies who work there lead you wrong.
    Jow_Blow