Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Google asks DOJ, FBI to lift restraints on publishing data about the number and scope of FISA requests

Tuesday morning, at about 11:00 a.m. PDT, Google's legal team published a blog post which duplicated a letter the company sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller. In it, the Internet giant asked for the U.S. government to lift the gag order imposed on Google -- and of course, other companies -- so that the company can clear up speculation and correct erroneous reports about the information it has been required to turn over to the federal government.

In the letter, Google's Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, asked for permission to publish both the number of requests it has received, as well as the scope of said requests.

The letter says, in full:
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
Google wants to add this information to its Transparency Report. It already releases quite a few statistics about government surveillance in that report, but has not secured permission to disclose information about secret court orders, including Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests.

Notably, information on national security letters (NSLs), which are mentioned in Google's letter, above, were first released in April.

Of course, if Google were to receive dispensation to release additional data in its Transparency Report, one would expect that other companies so tasked by the federal government would expect the same.

All of this comes in the wake of the NSA security programs that were revealed by Edward Snowden. One, published first by The Guardian, involved Verizon Wireless (and likely, all of the Big Four wireless carriers). The NSA is receiving daily reports from the nation's no. one wireless carrier about phone calls, everything except conversations themselves.

The second, first published by the Washington Post, involves a program called PRISM that involves the tapping of the data spigot from a number of Internet companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, and YouTube.

Last week, Google repeatedly denied actively taking part in PRISM, as did a number of the other companies that were listed in Snowden's leak. Google CEO Larry Page, in addition, pointed out that Google was not allowed to talk about these specific requests.

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