Google is one of the many Internet companies facing criticism for sharing information with the National Security Administration’s controversial Prism program. Despite officially stating that it hasn’t allowed bulk sharing of private information with authorities, the company still wants to regain the faith of its users. To do so, it’s requesting that the U.S. government share the details of the information that Google did give away to authorities.
In a letter to the United States Attorney General Eric Holder and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond posted on Google’s Official Blog asking that the government shed more light on the situation.
“Google has worked tremendously hard over the past fifteen years to earn our users’ trust,” Drummond wrote. “For example, we offer encryption across our services; we have hired some of the best security engineers in the world; and we have consistently pushed back on overly broad government requests for our users’ data.”
However, Drummond continued, “last week, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that service providers have received Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests,” but without any details about what information, and in what circumstances, information has been shared. “Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue,” Drummond wrote, adding that those untruths are helped by the fact that “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 [such] speculation.”
Drummond’s suggested solution? That Google be permitted to be a lot more transparent in its dealings with the authorities. Drummond wrote that Google would like Attorney General Holder and the FBI to “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,” adding that “Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made [and that] Google has nothing to hide.”
It’s a bold attempt to regain the credibility of a company that once prided itself on openness and user privacy – essentially, a gamble on the idea of “look how many requests for information that we didn’t say yes to.” The move seems risky at best, given that it automatically suggests that a number were approved, but arguably one that could serve the greater Google story. “Google appreciates that you authorized the recent disclosure of general numbers for national security letters,” Drummond wrote, “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.”
We’ll see if authorities will respond.