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Google Says the FBI Is Secretly Spying on Some of Its Customers
David Kravets/ Wired
The terrorists apparently would win if Google told you the exact number of times the Federal Bureau of Investigation invoked a secret process to extract data about the media giant’s customers.
That’s why it is unlawful for any record-keeper to disclose it has received a so-called National Security Letter. But under a deal brokered with the President Barack Obama administration, Google on Tuesday published a “range” of times it received National Security Letters demanding it divulge account information to the authorities without warrants.
It was the first time a company has ever released data chronicling the volume of National Security Letter requests.
National Security Letters allow the government to get detailed information on Americans’ finances and communications without oversight from a judge. The FBI has issued hundreds of thousands of NSLs and has even been reprimanded for abusing them. The NSLs are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and businesses like Google to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more as long as the FBI says the information is “relevant” to an investigation.
In each year from 2009 to 2012, Google said it received “0-999″ National Security Letters.
But in its talks with the authorities over releasing figures, Google said national security was on the mind of the Obama administration.
“You’ll notice that we’re reporting numerical ranges rather than exact numbers. This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations. We plan to update these figures annually,” Richard Salgado, a Google legal director, wrote in a blog post.
Salgado was not available for comment.
What makes the government’s position questionable is that it is required by Congress to disclose the number of times the bureau issues National Security Letters. In 2011, the year with the latest available figures, the FBI issued 16,511 National Security Letters pertaining to 7,201 different persons…