Google Makes FBI’s Secret Data Requests Public, In a Push to Achieve More Transparency

googleGoogle published eight secret National Security Letters, in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was requesting for subscriber information on a few specific accounts. The letters range from the years 2011-2015, in very identical formats. The Letters sometimes identify number of accounts and sometimes a time frame but they lack in providing evidence to justify the request.

Google was not allowed to publicly disclose the requests when they were first issued, but that prohibition has been lifted in 2015. In 2015, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which allowed companies like Google to make more granular disclosures  about National Security Letters they receive.  In addition, the Act restricts the use of indefinite gag restrictions that prevent providers from ever notifying customers or talking about the demands. The Department of Justice (DOJ) must now regularly review disclosure restrictions in NSLs and lift those that are no longer needed. The United States Attorney General approved procedures to do this, and as we mentioned recently, the FBI has started lifting gag restrictions on particular NSLs, noted Google’s announcement.

Now that these eight letters are public, it’s unlikely that they constitute all of the National Security Letters that Google has received, and many other requests could be still under gag order. Google has received more than 500 similar letters in the pan of six months. However, Google is still legally not allowed to give out more information than that.

We are now making copies of those NSLs available.  Our goal in doing so is to shed more light on the nature and scope of NSLs. We minimized redactions to protect privacy interests, but the content of the NSLs remain as they were when served.  We are also publishing the correspondence reflecting the lifting of the nondisclosure restrictions. We have links to the documents below.  In the near future, we will establish a more permanent home for these and additional materials from our Transparency Report”, added Google’s announcement.

While we are encouraged by this development, we will remain vigilant in opposing legislation that would significantly expand the universe of information that can be obtained with an NSL, said Google.