Google Wants Transparency In Data-Mining Request Release
June 19, 2013

Google Wants Transparency In Data-Mining Request Release

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Several Internet companies, including Apple and Yahoo, have released the number of data requests they´ve received from the government as a part of investigations and PRISM, the data-mining program used by the National Security Agency (NSA).

However, one Internet giant -- Google -- has been noticeably absent in releasing these figures following a plea to the Attorney General and FBI to allow them to include Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) data requests in their transparency report. Tuesday the search giant took this issue one step farther by filing a public complaint with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to lift the gag order on all requests. Google cites the first amendment right to free speech in their filing, saying the government shouldn't restrict them from being transparent about who is looking for access to data.

“We have long pushed for transparency so users can better understand the extent to which governments request their data," said a Google spokesperson in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.

“However, greater transparency is needed," added the spokesperson.

News of a data-mining program used to access the information of American citizens from the largest web firms in the US emerged in early June, sparking many questions about who wants to see this data, for what reason, and which companies are complying.

Internet companies, such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google, have recently asked the government for permission to detail the number of requests they received through the PRISM program. Previously there had been a gag order preventing these tech firms from disclosing any such information for fear of threats to public safety. The government relented and allowed the companies to release aggregate numbers of requests over a six month period. This means the companies can tell how many requests for their user data they've received under FISA but must also include the requests they've had as a part of regular criminal investigations.

Though others are content to release what figures the government allowed, Google has been holding out for greater transparency and the opportunity to publish more detailed information about its role in PRISM.

“Google's reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media, and Google's users are concerned by the allegations," reads Google's filing, according to the New York Times. “Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities."

The FBI and NSA have rejected the release of specific information regarding this program with the worry that it could damage the program and make it less effectual.

In an earlier letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Google reminded them the release of information regarding national security letter (NSLs) had “no adverse consequences" on public safety and allowed the search company to stick with their ethos of remaining transparent.

Yahoo is the latest company to dish out its aggregate data to users, revealing it has had as many as 13,000 requests since December 2012. In a Tumblr post explaining these requests, CEO Marissa Mayer and General Counsel Ron Bell announced they'd soon begin publishing biannual transparency reports similar to Google.

“Like all companies, Yahoo! cannot lawfully break out FISA request numbers at this time because those numbers are classified; however, we strongly urge the federal government to reconsider its stance on this issue," wrote Mayer and Bell in their Tumblr post.