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Google wants to tell you more about the info spy agencies are seeking

June 11, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • David Drummond, chief legal officer for Google, denied "assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users data."
David Drummond, chief legal officer for Google, denied "assertions… (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg )

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google is asking the Obama administration for permission to disclose more information about requests it gets from national intelligence agencies for its users' emails and other online communications.

The technology giant made the request in a letter to Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on Tuesday.

Google is trying to counteract damaging media reports that the company allows the National Security Agency access to users' online communications.

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"Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue," Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, said in a blog post. "However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation."

Google and other technology companies came under scrutiny last week after a government contractor leaked confidential documents revealing that the NSA has been receiving information from Google and other services, including data from U.S. phone call records and online communications to and from foreign targets.

Google and other companies insist that they only give up user communications when required by law, and they dispute certain details in reports in the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers that detailed their roles in an NSA data collection program called PRISM.

Google publishes a transparency report that lists the number of government requests for user data.

"We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests," Drummond wrote. "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."

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said again Tuesday that Facebook does not work directly with the NSA and does not provide the federal government direct access to its systems.

"We don't work directly with the NSA or any other program in order to proactively give any user information to anyone," Zuckerberg told shareholders at the company's first annual meeting. "No one has ever approached us to do anything like that."

Facebook only shares "the minimum amount of information that we need to comply with the law,” Zuckerberg said.


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