Google Wants To Include FISA Requests In Its Transparency Report
June 12, 2013

Google Wants To Include FISA Requests In Its Transparency Report

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Google prides itself in being a transparent and open company that shares what´s happening behind its search engine. To this end, the company often releases “Transparency Reports” that detail which governments put in requests to have content removed or receive account information.

Yet last week´s news about the National Security Agency´s (NSA) data-mining program PRISM revealed that Google, among others, have been receiving Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests, requests which weren´t listed on Google´s latest Transparency Report. Now the search giant is asking the government for permission to include these FISA requests in a new report to open up this information to the public. Other companies who were counted as participating in PRISM have also responded to the scandal, many of which have claimed the NSA doesn´t have “direct access” to their servers.

“Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users´ data are simply untrue,” writes David Drummond, Google´s chief legal officer in an open letter to Attorney General Holder and Director Mueller.

“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.” Drummond then asks Holder and Mueller for permission to expose these numbers, claiming that a new report would “show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made.”

It´s important to note that Google isn´t denying any participation in PRISM, only asking for permission to show that their involvement may be less than what some may believe.

Google isn´t alone in wanting the Government to become more transparent in their details of PRISM and FISA requests. Facebook and Microsoft have also said they´d like the NSA to be more forthright with this information to help them clear up their names and answer the looming question: “What is the NSA looking for?”

"Permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and scope of national security requests, including FISA orders, would help the community understand and debate these important issues," said a Microsoft spokesperson in an emailed statement to ITPro.

Ted Ullyot, Facebook's general counsel agreed, saying: "We would welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook around the world a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond.”

The government believes releasing this information could be damaging to the program and, more importantly, to public safety. Drummond reminds them in his letter that there have been “no adverse consequences” in allowing companies to share this kind of information, such as Google releasing the number of national security letters they received.

The news of the NSA´s PRISM program and collection of Verizon's call data has shaken up the Internet community leading many to call for immediate action and boycotts. Tim Berners-Lee, the so-called Father of the Internet, called for action today in a statement to the Financial Times.

“I call on all web users to demand better legal protection and due process safeguards for the privacy of their online communications, including their right to be informed when someone requests or stores their data,” said Berners-Lee.