Civil Liberties

Google Begs to Be Allowed More Transparency on NSA Data Requests

Wants to preserve their "Don't Be Evil" motto


But not as much as the government.
Credit: surrealpenguin / / CC BY-SA

In March, Google did its level best to provide some transparency about the number of National Security Letters it had received by the FBI demanding data about its users. The information was limited, though, providing ranges rather than flat numbers due to government fears that exact numbers would provide information about their investigations, a claim that sounds fairly absurd.

In the wake of the public relations hit disaster the PRISM leak could have on tech companies, Google is now asking the government permission to supply more data about Foreign Intelligence Service Act requests. Here's their full letter:

Dear Attorney General Holder and Director Mueller

Google has worked tremendously hard over the past fifteen years to earn our users' trust. For example, we offer encryption across our services; we have hired some of the best security engineers in the world; and we have consistently pushed back on overly broad government requests for our users' data.

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.

Google appreciates that you authorized the recent disclosure of general numbers for national security letters. There have been no adverse consequences arising from their publication, and in fact more companies are receiving your approval to do so as a result of Google's initiative. Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security.

We will be making this letter public and await your response.

David Drummond
Chief Legal Officer