Google opens up more about FBI requests for personal info

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