For over two weeks now, Google has aggressively asked the federal government to allow them to publish the exact numbers of data requests they’re getting from the National Security Agency (NSA). Even after the exposing of the NSA PRISM program and other previously classified information, the federal government will not cave into the pressure.
Google recently decided to push for more freedom on publishing information on NSL requests. In a new court filing sent to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), Google argues their right to publish the NSA requests and are counting on the U.S. Constitution as their defense. This recent filing was obtained and published in The Washington Post.
Google argues their right to publish the exact number of NSA requests they get because the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees them that right to do so.
Google seeks a declaratory judgment that Google has a right under the First Amendment to publish, and that no applicable law or regulation prohibits Google from publishing, two aggregate unclassified numbers: (1) the total number of FISA requests it receives, if any; and (2) the total number of users or accounts encompassed within such requests.
In essence, Google is just asking the federal government for permission to publish the number of requests they receive without any details whatsoever. Nevertheless, and as odd as it may seem, the federal government says that if Google were to publish the requested numbers it would put the U.S. population in harm’s way from terrorists.
The Federal government has not volunteered to explain how publishing numbers helps terrorists in any way.
Facebook recently published some very limited data on the requests from state and federal police agencies along with Yahoo and Apple publishing some limited information as well. Even still, Google feels that throwing all of the requests into one generic batch isn’t helpful to anyone.
Google published that they receive between 9,000 to 12,000 data requests per year, but that of course does not tell you which police agency asked what.
Local police can and often include the county or local parish sheriff’s office, police department, state highway patrol and of course state run investigation offices. Then you have federal police agencies such as the ATF, DEA and FBI, and all of this data combined makes the reports too general. Google even went as far to calling it a “backward step for our users.”
Google’s publication would disclose numbers as part of the regular Transparency Report publication cycle for National Security Letters, which covers data over calendar year time periods. There would be two new categories to cover requests made under FISA: (a) total requests received and (b) total users/accounts at issue. Each of these entries will be reported at a range, rather than an actual number. That range would be the same as used by Google in its reporting of NSLs currently, in increments of one thousand, starting with zero.
The Obama administration assured the American people that PRISM does not see content; however, the whistle blower Edward Snowden and others say otherwise. We also know about how the U.K. has its very own data-mining program that’s practically the Siamese twin to PRISM and that they work with the NSA.
So what is with all the secrecy on the actual numbers from the feds? The cat is out of the bag, so how can publishing numbers endanger anyone?
What may be the answer is that the federal government’s requests may not equal up to what was exposed with PRISM. The requests may have been made as a cover-up for the real data they were getting with PRISM. However, that is just this one writer’s opinion on the matter. Anyone’s guess is as good as any.