As Google and other large tech companies cope with the aftermath of recent reports that the National Security Agency has had broad access to their users’ data, the search giant is asking the U.S. government for permission to publish the number of national security requests it receives, including those made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said that government nondisclosure obligations are keeping the company from being able to ease public concerns about the privacy and security of users’ data.
Noting that the search and advertising company “has worked tremendously hard over the past fifteen years to earn our users’ trust,” Drummond wrote that Google’s inability to disclose “the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests” fuels speculation that the company has given the U.S. government free access to all its users’ data. That speculation, Drummond wrote, is “simply untrue.”
Google is seeking to publish the total number of national security requests it receives, including FISA disclosures, and to publish information about their scope.
“Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made,” Drummond wrote.
He also said that Google has “consistently pushed back on overly broad government requests for our users’ data.”
Drummond thanked Holder and Mueller for allowing Google to say publicly how many national security letters it receives, information the company was allowed to publish for the first time in early March. Saying that there had been “no adverse consequences,” Drummond said he sees the current request to release FISA data in a similar light.
“Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security,” he wrote.
Google keeps track of requests to remove content and to see users’ data on its Transparency Report, where it lists such activity for each country in which the company does business.