Web

In transparency effort, Google publishes eight National Security Letters from FBI

google
Ken Wolter /123rf
In a win for transparency advocates, Google on Tuesday revealed eight previously unpublished requests that the company received from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation between 2010 and 2015. The requests, referred to as National Security Letters, identified customer accounts and data to which federal authorities requested broad access.

“In our continued effort to increase transparency around government demands for data, today we begin to make available to the public the National Security Letters (NSLs) we have received where, either through litigation or legislation, we have been freed of nondisclosure obligations,” Google Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security Richard Salgado wrote in a blog post.

If you’ve never heard of an NSL, that’s not exactly surprising — most of the time, they are accompanied by gag orders that prevent the receiving parties from discussing the letters or their contents. Specifically, they are a type of subpoena issued by the U.S. federal government to request information for “national security purposes,” but don’t require prior approval from a judge — a majority are justified under Executive Order 12333, a Ronald Reagan-era decree used to authorize domestic surveillance. They are not bound by a time frame and they do not require authorities to put forth evidence for the information they request.

The eight letters published by Google requested the name, address, length of service, and “electronic communications transactional records” of around 20 users. Most appear to target Gmail, Google’s free-to-use email client on the web and mobile devices. A majority were sent by the FBI field office in Charlotte, North Carolina, and others came from Florida, New York, Arizona, and California.

NSLs rarely see the light of day and Google was prohibited from disclosing Tuesday’s letters when they were first issued. But the letters’ accompanying gag orders were lifted as part of a far-reaching review undertaken by the Department of Justice. In accordance with the amended USA Freedom Act’s classification guidelines, the government has systematically reviewed the FBI’s requests over the past six months, in some cases declassifying the agency’s subpoenas.

In June, Yahoo disclosed three NSLs it received from the FBI. Earlier in December, The Internet Archive followed suit.

The eight NSLs Google published on Tuesday likely are not the agencies only letters. In the company’s transparency report earlier in 2016, it reported an influx in the range from 0-499. (It’s prohibited by law from providing a specific number.)

Google’s spearheaded the opposition against NSLs over the past several years. It’s challenged 19 NSLs in court and in a significant court win against federal authorities, was permitted to inform associates of whistleblowing website Wikileaks that its data had been requested. The search giant will soon begin incorporating NSL disclosures as part of its annual transparency report, Salgado wrote.

“While we are encouraged by this development, we will remain vigilant in opposing legislation that would significantly expand the universe of information that can be obtained with an NSL,” he wrote.

Computing

House votes to restore net neutrality rules, but effort faces long odds

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved the Save the Internet Act, a measure intended to restore net neutrality rules that were repealed in 2017 by the Federal Communications Commission.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Cars

From rugged wagons to hot sports cars, the 2019 NY Auto Show brought it all

From city cars to supercars, anything goes at the New York Auto Show. Automakers from all over the globe traveled to the 2019 show to unveil their newest concept cars and production models.
Social Media

How to protect yourself from GoFundMe scams before donating

Can you spot a GoFundMe scam? While the fundraising platform says scams make up less than a tenth of one percent of campaigns, some do try to take advantages of others' charity -- like a case last year that made national news.
Mobile

The FCC and White House want to bring high-speed internet to rural areas

The FCC and the White House unveiled new initiatives to bring high-speed internet to rural areas, including $20.4 billion in incentives to companies to build infrastructure. The FCC also announced ways to speed up the rollout of 5G.
Web

Search all of Craigslist at once with these great tools on web and mobile

Not finding what you need in your local area? Craigslist can be great for finding goods and services from further afield too. All you need do is learn these tips for how to search all of Craigslist at once.
Computing

Internet Explorer zero-day exploit makes files vulnerable to hacks on Windows PCs

Evidence of an Internet Explorer zero-day exploit capable of letting hackers steal files from Windows PCs was published online by a security researcher who also claims Microsoft knew of the vulnerability and opted not to patch it.
Business

Buying airline tickets too early is no longer a costly mistake, study suggests

When you book can play a big role in the cost of airline tickets -- so when is the best time to book flights? Earlier than you'd think, a new study suggests. Data from CheapAir.com suggests the window of time to buy at the best prices is…
Computing

Report says 20% of all 2018 web traffic came from bad bots

Distil Networks published its annual Bad Bot Report this week and announced that 20% of all web traffic in 2018 came from bad bots. The report had other similarly surprising findings regarding the state of bots as well.
Computing

Google Chrome will get a Reader Mode for distraction-free desktop browsing

If Google's testing of Reader Mode on the Chrome Canary desktop browser is successful, soon all Chrome users will gain access to this feature. Reader Mode strips away irrelevant content on a webpage for distraction-free browsing.
Computing

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.
Computing

Want to make calls across the internet for less? Try these great VOIP services

Voice over IP services are getting more and more popular, but there are still a few that stand above the pack. In this guide, we'll give you a few options for the best VOIP services for home and business users.