Google Asks For Help Curbing Secret Surveillance

Google wants to curb rules that let Feds demand users’ data and Google’s silence.

Despite reports that National Security Agency (NSA) analysts complained that tapping datacenter feeds belonging to Google and Yahoo left them overwhelmed with data, the number of demands Google receives for information on end-users continues to rise steadily.

During the first six months of 2013, Google received 10,918 requests for information from U.S.-based law-enforcement agencies, out of a total of 25,879 received worldwide.

The numbers come from Google’s most recent Transparency Report – a series of self-audits designed to show trends in the number of malware incidents, content-removal requests from both government and copyright owners, and requests for information on Google customers from government or law-enforcement agencies.

In the three years since Google began publishing the Transparency Report, the number of requests for information on customers has doubled, from 12,539 during the second half of 2009 to 25,879 in the first half of 2013.

The number of requests from U.S. government agencies tripled during the same period, from 3,580 in the second half of 2009 to 10,918 during the first half of 2013. “This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments make requests than ever before,” according to the Google blog announcing the newest figures. “And these numbers only include the requests we’re allowed to publish.”

Most of the requests are legal ones that come with a warrant and evidence related to a specific criminal investigation – the same circumstances under which police would legally be permitted to search a U.S. resident’s house or financial records.

What it can’t reveal, except in broad, anonymized statistics with little information attached, are those coming from the FBI or other federal agencies under National Security Letters (NSL) that can include a provision forbidding Google or other content holders from revealing they’ve been asked for the information, or what they did about it.

With each half-yearly update to the Transparency Report Google adds more detail – such as information about the legal process involved in requests related to criminal cases, and categorizing emergency disclosures, wiretap orders and other demands for information.

The most recent report also includes Google’s clearest statement of opposition to rules that require the covert sharing of what customers assume is private information and rules that keep Google from disclosing details of what it is being forced to share.

Rather than just disclosing the number of requests, Google is asking for support in active opposition to covert data requests and asking that users send in letters of support for legislation being debated in Congress over ways to curb it:

“We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies,” according to a Google blog written by Richard Salgado, legal director, law enforcement and information security for Google. “However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive. Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But you deserve to know.

“Earlier this year, we [Google] brought a federal case to assert that we do indeed have the right to shine more light on the FISA process. In addition, we recently wrote a letter of support (PDF) for two pieces of legislation currently proposed in the U.S. Congress. And we’re asking governments around the world to uphold international legal agreements that respect the laws of different countries and guarantee standards for due process are met. ”

 

Image: Google