Google's Schmidt Expresses Anger Over NSA Spying Allegations

Google's executive chairman calls allegations of NSA spying on Google data centers "outrageous" in an interview.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt harshly criticized the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) over allegations and reports that the agency recently spied on Google data.

Schmidt made his remarks during a visit to Hong Kong, where he was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal about the latest revelations about the NSA's actions.

"It's really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that's true," Schmidt told The Wall Street Journal. "The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people's privacy, it's not OK."

The latest spying allegations against the NSA were reported Oct. 30 by The Washington Post when the paper published additional documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showing that the spy agency had tapped the communications links between the Internet and the data centers of large online service providers, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The information, contained in a PowerPoint slide used by the agency to brief officials on a project known as MUSCULAR, indicates that the agency allegedly had access to traffic going into Google's and Yahoo's data centers. The NSA harvested some 180 million records in a single month, the article stated.

Schmidt told the Journal, "The Snowden revelations have assisted us in understanding that it's perfectly possible that there are more revelations to come." Schmidt told the paper that his company has registered complaints with the NSA, as well as President Barack Obama and members of the U.S. Congress, to protest the alleged conduct by the agency.

"The NSA allegedly collected the phone records of 320 million people in order to identify roughly 300 people who might be a risk," he told the Journal. "It's just bad public policy … and perhaps illegal."

The NSA denies the latest allegations, according to an agency statement given to the Journal. "NSA conducts all of its activities in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies—and assertions to the contrary do a grave disservice to the nation, its allies and partners, and the men and women who make up the National Security Agency," it said in the statement.

Schmidt told the paper that he understands that national security must be strong, but added that it should not be done without clear limits. "There clearly are cases where evil people exist, but you don't have to violate the privacy of every single citizen of America to find them," he told the Journal.

Google did not respond Nov. 4 to multiple requests for comment from eWEEK.

The backlash against the surveillance and data-gathering activities of the NSA has been gathering more momentum with additional calls for political action and new revelations about the extent to which the spy agency went to tap into Internet communications.

The evidence of significant surveillance and data-collection activity came last week after two congressmen introduced a bill to curb the NSA's activities and the Obama administration announced that it had initiated an investigation into the agency. Large technology companies also jumped into the fray, releasing a letter that called for meaningful change in how the NSA operates and supporting the new bill, called the USA Freedom Act.

"Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs," stated the letter, which was written over the corporate logos of AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. The letter was originally published by the Washington Post.

The latest revelations may galvanize support for the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end dragnet data collection of phone records and create a special advocate for privacy rights in the secretive courts that hold jurisdiction for intelligence operations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., would also allow greater details of intelligence operations to be reported by companies.

"It is time for serious and meaningful reforms so we can restore confidence in our intelligence community," Leahy said in a statement. "Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough. We need real reform."