Rumors have been circulating which have alleged that Google, amongst other major Internet companies, have joined a secret U.S. government program called PRISM, that gives the National Security Agency (NSA) direct access to their servers. While your privacy may be an afterthought on the web these days, Google is denying giving Big Brother any special “back door” access to your data!
According to Larry Page, CEO of Google, here are the real facts:
First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.
Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period. Until this week’s reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received—an order that appears to have required them to hand over millions of users’ call records. We were very surprised to learn that such broad orders exist. Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.
Finally, this episode confirms what we have long believed—there needs to be a more transparent approach. Google has worked hard, within the confines of the current laws, to be open about the data requests we receive. We post this information on our Transparency Report whenever possible. We were the first company to do this. And, of course, we understand that the U.S. and other governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety—including sometimes by using surveillance. But the level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish.
Google Transparency Report
The chart below summarizes user data requests made by the NSA since 2009, broken down by subpoenas, search warrants and other types of requests. By the end of 2012, Google received 8438 National Security Letters asking for permission to users’ data, of which 88% were satisfied.
Are you worried about Big Brother having a look at your private data? Or do you think this a necessary evil to catch bad guys?