Internet companies are asking for more transparency following the revelation last week of widespread U.S. government programs to collect telephone and Internet records. Mozilla launched a campaign Thursday morning called StopWatching.US that urges Congress to demand greater transparency about the newly exposed PRISM program and other National Security Agency programs. Google followed by writing a letter to the offices of the Attorney General and the FBI that asks for permission to publish the national security requests it received from the government. Google then published this letter to its blog, making the request known to the public.
While Google isn’t denying that it participated in the PRISM program, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company wants to shed some light on what the NSA requested of them. The letter, written by Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said that the lack of transparency is damaging Google’s reputation as a trustworthy company.
“Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue,” Drummond wrote. “However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.”
Google asked for permission to publish these numbers in its Transparency Reports. Drummond added that if Google could make these numbers public, it would show that the claims made by the press are not true and that Google has nothing to hide.
The government claims that information about these requests would harm national security, but Google countered that there haven’t been consequences since the government made public the general amount of requests it sends. Therefore, Google said, the transparency it asks for will not harm national security.
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Of course, it would be pretty hard to either dispute or verify the numbers Google publishes. Damaging information would work against both Google and the NSA, the only parties with access to the data.
Google has a good track record when it comes protecting users’ data. In April, Google became one of the first major communications companies to publicly fight the FBI over national security letters. Google was recently given five out of six stars in an annual report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on protecting user data.
You can read the entire letter on Google’s blog.