Google Begs for Transparency

However annoying Googe’s recent software changes have been, it is true that they have been more aggressive about protecting privacy than most other companies. They fought a broad subpoena from DOJ for URLs and search returns in 2006. And it is often speculated they were the company that challenged and appealed a 2007 Protect America Act order. Moreover, their transparency reports really do provide at least a hint of how much data the government demands from it.

So I am encouraged by Google’s request to publish how much spying the government asks it to do.

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. 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.

Google appreciates that you authorized the recent disclosure of general numbers for national security letters. There have been no adverse consequences arising from their publication, and in fact more companies are receiving your approval to do so as a result of Google’s initiative. Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security.

Google is going to get hammered internationally if its customers aren’t reassured about this program. Moreover, Google likely is in a position to show that it is less enthusiastic about government spying than its competitors (cough, Microsoft). It it starts publishing this information, other providers will likely match its efforts, creating a market for at least some privacy protection.

The big corporations pushing from one side and the civil libertarians have managed to beat SOPA/PIPA and similar efforts. Perhaps that coalition can provide some check on government spying.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. William Ockham says:

    I think you will find that Microsoft is not as sanguine about this as you think. They have a lot more to lose from this than Google. They do a lot of business in Europe and the Europeans are going to use this against them.

  2. pataphysician says:

    This is a PR move, I think the actual important stuff Google gave was information on their private SSL keys. The NSA probably collects the data from internet backbone and also maybe at IXPs, which are mostly fiber optic trunk lines and can be split with a prism to make duplicates. The internet backbone are owned mostly by the telecoms, not Google. But since Google, and others like Apple and Microsoft allow for encrypted information, the NSA needs access to the keys to decrypt it.

    The FISA requests would only come when they need the same data they already have, but to be able to use it in a legaler manner.

  3. Hello I must be going says:

    The good news is the Feds don’t have unfettered access to Google’s
    servers; the bad news is Google has unfettered access to Google’s servers.

  4. john francis lee says:

    As though the Googleplex, authors of CISPA, weren’t every bit as complicit as the NSA! And delighted to be of help, they are! It was Google with its ‘promise’ to read all its customers mail … and its damn fool customers … that debased the coin of privacy to begin with!

  5. john francis lee says:

    Moon of Alabama

    The French philosopher Michel Foucault described the effect:

    Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.

    The original Panopticon, like the digital version the Gioogle has built NSA is building, takes away all feeling of privacy. Even when one is not watched, knowing that the possibility of being watched is always there, creates uncertainty and leads to self disciplining and self censorship. It is certainly a state the powers that be would like everyone, except themselves, to be in.

  6. Netmaker says:

    Some background thoughts about Google.

    Between Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo…

    Google founders have of a sense idealism that while diminished from their early days (don’t do evil) is still far and beyond what its competitors display. When you think of Gates, Ballmer, Zuckerburg or Mayer I doubt you think about their idealism.

    As such, Google they should be supported as a exemplar of what companies would should be doing. And, at the time Google should be pushed to expand its activities, leadership and to push the envelope to explain what it has been doing with the government.

    A key activity is to organize Google’s employees, to gain as much as information regarding Google’s formal activities, technical means and organization and well what normal of parts of Google’s business support to the government’s activities. As a means to track the government’s activities, to prevent as much leakage as possible to the government and to harden their own internal security. Organize Google’s employees to push from the inside. They are as probability as incensed as any anybody is about what is going, even not more so.

    Relative to its peers, Google has a much more self contained infrastructure. They designed and build their own hardware, they rely on their software and were the first to build their own massively custom data centers. More importantly, they invested in procuring huge amounts of dark fiber, enough so that they are considered a top tier telecom in their own right. And they are able to connect their facilities with their own fiber to a degree and with a level of security that their competitors cannot.

    My apologies for the rambling. Hopefully it may ideas better thoughts.

Comments are closed.