Google, Asking Government For Permission To Disclose NSA Data, Isn't Done Defending Itself

Google Isn't Done Defending Itself Against PRISM

In an open letter on Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Google pressed the United States government for permission to publish more information about the number of secret requests it receives for customers' data.

"Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users' data are simply untrue," David Drummond, the search giant's top lawyer, wrote, echoing not one but two flat-out denials that the government has "direct access" to company servers. Last week, The Guardian and The Washington Post had bombshell reports on a National Security Agency program called PRISM that lets the government collect emails, photos and other information from Internet users.

As it currently stands, Google is prohibited by law from disclosing the number of government data requests it receives under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- the controversial law that empowers PRISM -- as well as the number of individuals affected by those requests. "We therefore ask you to help 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," the company wrote.

In March, the company won the right publish statistics about the number of "national security letters" it receives. Those letters require Google to hand over "metadata" about users interactions -- who emailed whom, for example, but not the content of the emails themselves -- though even then the government would not let Google publish exact figures but only broad ranges of the number of requests.

"Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security," Drummond noted in the letter. Transparency will also make it easier for Google to clear its name to Americans who trust it with their data.

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