Google and Government Requests for Data

Posted by Mally Mclane | Filed under news

google-cloud-securityAcross the past year, various stories and documents have been released that have caused some concern and queries over the level of access that our security and intelligence services have to the data we hold in companies like Google, Microsoft and other vendors. When the story first broke, the University released a statement on it’s position. That position has not changed and you can read what we said at: http://www.bris.ac.uk/it-services/news/2013/datasecurity19june.html.

Google believes the public deserves to know the full extent to which governments request user information from Google. That’s why for the past four years they have shared and continuously expanded and updated information about government requests for user information in their Transparency Report. Until now, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) opposed Google’s efforts to publish statistics specifically about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests. Under FISA, the government may apply for orders from a special FISA Court to require U.S. companies to hand over users’ personal information and the content of their communications. Although FISA was passed by elected representatives and is available for anyone to read, the way the law is used is typically kept secret.

Last summer’s revelations about government surveillance remind us of the challenges that secrecy can present to a democracy that relies on public debate. Last year Google filed a lawsuit asking the FISA Court to let them disclose the number of FISA requests they receive and how many users/accounts they include. Google had previously secured permission to publish information about National Security Letters, and FISA requests were the only remaining type of demands excluded from their report. Now, for the first time, the Google report on government requests for user information encompasses all of the requests they receive, subject only to delays imposed by the DoJ regarding how quickly they can include certain requests in their statistics.

Publishing these numbers is a step in the right direction, and speaks to the principles for reform that Google announced with other companies last December. But Google still believes more transparency is needed so everyone can better understand how surveillance laws work and decide whether or not they serve the public interest. Specifically, Google want to disclose the precise numbers and types of requests they receive, as well as the number of users they affect in a timely way. That’s why Congress to go another step further and pass legislation (PDF) that will enable Google and others to say more.

You have the right to know how laws affect the security of your information online and Google, along with other major internet companies have pledged to keep fighting for your ability to exercise that right by pushing for greater transparency around the world.

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