Google, Facebook, Microsoft Talk Surveillance
Google has nothing to hide about the national security requests it receives from the U.S. government. Facebook would like to be able to publicly report a complete picture of the government requests we receive. Microsoft thinks the feds should take action to provide additional transparency on national security requests.
Thats the word this week from three of the largest Internet companies implicated in the disclosure of National Security Agency surveillance practicesall saying they want to be able to tell users about the volume of secret government requests they receive for user data.
Google and other U.S.-based tech firms have denied that they allow the government direct access to their servers, as described in reports by The Washington Post and The Guardian in articles about an NSA surveillance program called Prism. But nor are the companies allowed by law to detail publicly certain government requests, such as Foreign International Surveillance Act requests.
Googles chief legal officer David Drummond has been particularly vocal on this point. On Tuesday he sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, requesting permission from the government to disclose aggregate numbers of nation security requests in the companys biannual transparency report.
Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users data are simply untrue, Drummond said in the letter, which was published on Googles blog. 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.
Drummond argued that being able to publish both the number and scope of security requests would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made.
Earlier this year, Google for the first time published information on national security letters issued to the company by the FBI to obtain customer dataand thanked government officials for working with us to provide greater insight into the use of [national security letters]. The company only publishes a numerical range of both the number of letters received and the number of subscriber accounts covered by the requests. In 2012, for example, Google said it received 0-999 NSLs covering 1,000 1,999 users/accounts.
Drummond told Holder and Mueller in the letter that no adverse consequences had arisen from publishing those numbers.
(At the same time, Google has battled the FBI in court over having to comply with national security letters, according to the Associated Press, and last month a judge ordered the company to comply with the agencys demands for data.)
On Tuesday, Google also took additional steps to clarify how it transfers data to the government when ordered to do so, either by hand, or over secure FTP, Wired reports.
The U.S. government does not have the ability to pull that data directly from our servers or network, Chris Gaither, a company spokesperson, told the news site.