In a Transparency Report released by Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), the company revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used the National Security Letters (NSL), a form of surveillance, to extract information on Google users. The privacy experts said that the revelation made by Google is an “an unprecedented win for transparency,” but it is a small step.
Dan Auerbach of Electronic Frontier Foundation said that the use of NSL is a serious issue and the way to use NSL still draws questions. The FBI issued 16,511 national Security letters in 2011, as per the availability of data. Google, however, was not allowed to disclose how many letters it received.
NSL, according to the 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service, is comparable to administrative subpoenas and could also be issued to credit agencies, communication providers as well as financial institutions. The situations under which a NSL can be filed, were expanded under the Patriot act. The NSL should be issued only if it is regarding an authorized investigation to protect international terrorism or secret intelligence activities, according to the report of Google.
According to Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has made efforts to an extent to reveal the ways in which the US government uses these secretive demands for data users. The foundation said that though the actual number is not known, but it shows the way in which FBI is going through the large number of users account at Google. One of the Inspector general said that there is a lacuna in how the FBI is handling the process, and thousands of US citizens and non-Americans are concerned over FBI handling.
The FBI can prevent Google from revealing to users that they have received a request from NSL asking for information of users account. The FBI stated that such a disclosure by Google to Users could result in insecurity towards the United States, interference with a criminal, counterterrorism, or counterintelligence investigation, interference with diplomatic relations, or danger to the life or physical safety of a person. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), however, gave rough data in its annual report of the number of NSLs filed by the FBI.
Salgado, Google’s legal director of the law, said that the services of the company are not always used by people in good faith, and it is important for the law enforcers to investigate illegal activities.
The experts said that no other technology company has disclosed any such information about Government requests.
Despite the restrictions on disclosure, the internet giant promised to come out in its annual report with a rough estimate of the number of NSL filed by the FBI.
“Starting today, we’re now including data about NSLs in our Transparency Report,” the report from Google said. “We’re thankful to the U.S. government officials for working with us to provide greater insight into the use of NSLs.”