Google’s chief legal officer addressed a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller contesting recent media reports regarding the breadth of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs and requesting that his company be allowed to publish more national security request data in order to quell media speculation.
The letter, which was published on Google’s official blog today, is part of the company’s response to the unceasing stream of media reports that have surfaced since Edward Snowden, a former Booz Allen Hamilton infrastructure analyst, leaked the contents of two highly secretive NSA programs to the Guardian and Washington Post last week. The first had to do with the NSA collection of all metadata produced by Verizon customers while the second described an alleged surveillance program, called PRISM, through which the top American spy agency allegedly collects user data from a group of major Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.
Both programs are reportedly overseen and approved by the ultra-secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978.
Google’s top attorney David Drummond claims that his company has worked hard over the last 15 years to earn its users’ trust by providing strong encryption, hiring some of the best security minds in the world, and pushing back against overly broad government requests for user data.
Drummond said Google does comply with valid government requests for user data, but he downplays the ease with which his company accepts with such requests. He also suggests that the acknowledgement by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, that online service providers have received FISA requests, has put Google in the untenable position of denying claims they know to be false without legally being allowed to provide the evidence that they have to prove the claims are false.
“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 wrote. “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.”
In essence, Google claims that the media has either received false information about, or is exaggerating, the scope of the government’s access to user data on their servers, but the company has no way of refuting these claims given the current legal climate. Therefore, the Mountain View, California tech giant is requesting that the government allow it to publish the aggregate numbers of national security requests and the number and the scope of the FISA disclosures it receives from the government in its annual transparency reports.
“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.”
It also emerged today that a group of people, including a former federal prosecutor and the parents of a Navy SEAL sniper killed in action, have filed a class-action law suit against the National Security Agency, Verizon and President Obama over the NSA’s collection of cell phone data.