Google Report Details Secret FBI Surveillance Requests


Transcript with links can be found below:

Lora Vlaeva

Google’s bi-annual Transparency report released Tuesday broke the silence on the FBI’s warrantless requests to access Google users’ data.

As the Transparency FAQ details, the FBI uses specific requests called ‘national security letters’ in order to see user’s information detained by web companies. But these requests are accompanied by gag orders forbidding companies to speak about them.

Google also released an account on all the NSLs received in the past four years. Here is Google’s blog:

The FBI has the authority to prohibit companies from talking about these requests. But we’ve been trying to find a way to provide more information about the NSLs we get—particularly as people have voiced concerns about the increase in their use since 9/11.

And the numbers are pretty impressive. Here’s the transparency report:

In just the second half of 2012, Google said it received from the FBI information requests for more than 14,000 accounts and just about a fifth of the requests resulted from search warrants.

The BBC compares the figures to the other countries’ requests.

“That was a higher percentage than for any other country (…) By contrast all of Turkey’s 149 requests and Hungary’s 95 applications were rejected outright.”

But Google’s decision to release information on the NSLs is just a small step towards transparency. The NSL’s are kept big secret and there is little nationwide information existing on them.

Yet, what DOES exist can be a bit off-putting. In 2010, the Washington Post noted, “The FBI between 2003 and 2006 issued more than 192,500 letters — an average of almost 50,000 a year.”

But how much information can the FBI get with this controversial technique? The Wall Street Journal’s Digit blog explains.

These letters allow the government to seek financial, phone and Internet data without going before a judge or grand jury, if it’s relevant to a national security investigation.

…A pretty loose definition of what the FBI can do armed with an NSL. Research fellow Julian Sanchez at the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, told Forbes:

These kinds of requests are supposed to to be limited to less sensitive information (…) but if the point is to de-anonymize anonymous information, it’s not clear that’s less sensitive.

Information released by Google remains quite vague as in 2012 report, and The Verge says that’s intentional.

Google says it can not offer anything more accurate because the FBI, the Justice Department, and others claim that ‘releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations.’

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