Internet companies are continuing to push back against secret NSA surveillance programs. While Yahoo has taken steps against PRISM in the court, Google is taking up the fight in its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, where it is reportedly developing new encryption to protect files on Google Drive, its popular cloud-based storage service.
Encryption has been a popular word since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing an NSA program called PRISM that collects user data from major Internet companies, including Google. If Google encrypts this data and doesn’t provide the NSA with the key, then the information the NSA collects would be useless.
Encryption is commonly used to protect users’ communications while they are on a website, but it's less common on emails or data stored in the cloud. Google currently encrypts files when a user transmits them but stores the files unencrypted. According to CNet, this is largely due to the expense and difficulty of indexing and searching encrypted information.
Information on Google’s plans to encrypt Google Drive is limited, but CNet’s sources say the company may be looking to do all of the encryption and decryption on its own servers. If this were the case, then Google would be unable to provide content from Google Drive even if the NSA submitted a legal request under FISA.
Of course, the NSA could always get a wiretap order and force Google to intercept the information before it is encrypted.
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Last week, a new leak by Snowden revealed that Microsoft worked with the NSA to give the agency access to its cloud servers and even provided the encryption keys to its new Outlook.com email portal. Microsoft has said that the leak contains “significant inaccuracies” and that it provides the government only with information that it is legally obligated to provide.
Several of the companies implicated by Snowden as being involved in PRISM have demanded permission to be more transparent about the FISA requests it received. Yahoo won an important legal victory Tuesday when FISA ordered the NSA to declassify come of this information.
Google will likely follow Yahoo, but new encryption on Google Drive would be a proactive step toward protecting users against NSA snooping. Just as long as it doesn’t give up the encryption keys as easily as Microsoft allegedly did.