Google Asks U.S. Government to Allow More Data Transparency

Google says it wants to more fully detail the number of private data requests that it receives from governments each year to allow better public disclosure.

Google is asking the United States government to allow it to report more fully on more of the government requests for private data that it receives, especially in light of the recent National Security Agency PRISM program controversy.

In a June 11 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond asked the government to allow Google to provide general information on data requests it receives under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Under present law, statistics on FISA data requests are not permitted to be disclosed as part of Google's twice-a-year Transparency Reports.

"Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users' data are simply untrue," wrote Drummond. "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."

Instead, argues Google, by giving more information, it would keep the process more open.
"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," wrote Drummond. "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."

In a June 7 story by The Guardian, it was reported that the NSA "has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document" obtained by the paper. "The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says."

The story reported that the document claims "collection directly from the servers" of major U.S. service providers.

The disclosure started a firestorm of controversy about PRISM, privacy and exactly what kinds of data were being collected under it.

"The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information," reported The Guardian. "The law allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US."

The report came just after The Guardian had also reported on a "top-secret court order compelling telecoms provider Verizon to turn over the telephone records of millions of US customers."