|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] survailence and google
|Google is calling for an open debate on government survailence in
combating the 'secret court'
Google, Yahoo and Facebook filed amended requests today with the U.S.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) reiterating their desire
to publish numbers on requests for user data related to national
security. Google, meanwhile, went a step further asking for an open,
public hearing with the court so that the issue could be publicly
The U.S. government prohibits companies from disclosing the number of
requests received for user data under a number of national security
statutes. All three have published transparency reports that describe a
range for the total number of requests received and the number of users
associated with those requests, but specifics on requests related to
national security are not allowed to be published.
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Google was the first to make such a public request, when in June it
filed a motion days after the first of Edward Snowden’s revelations
about the NSA’s data collection practices under the Patriot Act and
its PRISM program. Google cited media reports, pointing to articles in
the Guardian UK newspaper and The Washington Post alleging that the NSA
had “direct access” to Google data. Google immediately denied
these claims and petitioned FISC and Attorney General Eric Holder for
permission to publish national security data.
Citing legal precedent, Google wants public access to the proceedings it
said, in addition to being able to publish the total number of
compulsory national security-related requests and the number of users or
accounts associated with those requests.
“A public argument would be consistent with this Court’s rules,
which state that ‘a hearing in a non-adversarial matter must be ex
parte and conducted within the Court’s secure facility, suggesting
by negative implication, that a hearing in an adversarial matter shall
be open,” the motion says.
On Aug. 29, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced
that the government would release an annual statement describing the
total number of national security orders and the number of targets
affected by those orders. Those numbers would include probably cause
orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), in
particular Section 702 of the Act, as well as FISA business records and
National Security Letters.
Google said Clapper’s announcement did not translate into enough
transparency for its users.
“It fails to inform [users] of the true extent of demands placed on
Google by the government and in any event, such publication is not a
replacement for Google’s right to speak truthfully about the process
it receives,” today’s motion said.
Google maintains its position that the allegations the intelligence
community has access to user data with or without a warrant are hurting
“Google must respond to such claims with more than
generalities,” the motion said. “Moreover, these are matters of
significant weight and importance, and transparency is critical to
advancing public debate in a thoughtful and democratic manner.”
Today’s amended motions from Google, Yahoo and Facebook came after
negotiations between the companies and the government reached an
impasse, Google said; the government ordered amended motions be filed by
Yahoo, which filed its first transparency report last week, made the
same request of the FISA court and urged that the U.S. should lead the
world in transparency with regard to respect of civil liberties and
“We believe that the U.S. Government’s important responsibility
to protect public safety can be carried out without precluding Internet
companies from sharing the number of national security requests they may
receive,” Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell wrote. “Ultimately,
withholding such information breeds mistrust and suspicion—both of
the United States and of companies that must comply with government
Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch echoed Bell’s remarks.
“The actions and statements of the U.S. government have not
adequately addressed the concerns of people around the world about
whether their information is safe and secure with Internet
companies,” he wrote. “We believe there is more information that
the public deserves to know, and that would help foster an informed
debate about whether government security programs adequately balance
privacy interests when attempting to keep the public safe.”