Google to Feds: Please Let Us Talk About Spying [UPDATE: Facebook Too]S

Google says it's not giving the NSA direct access to your life online. Edward Snowden says otherwise. Either way, Google is upfront about one thing: it wants to disclose as much of its government cooperation as possible, if only it were allowed. So why have they never bothered lobbying congress about this, ever?

The company's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond just published the following letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI. He's frustrated by the fact that Google must comply with FISA orders to disclose user information, but can't disclose the details of these notices. That's just how FISA works:

We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.

It'd be good to see this sort of disclosure out of Google (and Facebook, and Microsoft, and Yahoo, and Apple, and...) but like Drummond says, there are these pesky "government nondisclosure obligations." It's the law! You have to wonder, then, why Google has never tried to change this law, when there have been opportunities—these FISA amendments have faced reauthorization every year since their introduction in 2008. Microsoft, Verizon, AT&T, and HP have all spent money trying to influence FISA. But despite, according to federal disclosure data, spending over $44 milion on general lobbying to date and enjoying 37 employees on federal advisory committees, Google has not once lobbied regarding FISA when it's faced congressional reauthorization. Why not try to change the law with part of your war chest? Why not try more than a blog post? One letter in 2013 is a little late.

Full letter below.

Dear Attorney General Holder and Director Mueller

Google has worked tremendously hard over the past fifteen years to earn our users’ trust. For example, we offer encryption across our services; we have hired some of the best security engineers in the world; and we have consistently pushed back on overly broad government requests for our users’ data.

We have always made clear that we comply with valid legal requests. And last week, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that service providers have received Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests.

Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue. 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 appreciates that you authorized the recent disclosure of general numbers for national security letters. There have been no adverse consequences arising from their publication, and in fact more companies are receiving your approval to do so as a result of Google’s initiative. Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security.

We will be making this letter public and await your response.

David Drummond
Chief Legal Officer

Update: The National Review says Facebook is echoing Google's plea, and has also, as far as I can tell, never directly lobbied about FISA. Stirring stuff.