National Security Agency Stories May 19, 2015

Google among those asking Obama to reject calls for government access to encrypted data

Google and Apple have co-signed a letter calling on President Obama to reject any government proposal to allow the government backdoor access to encrypted data on smartphones and other devices. The Washington Post says the letter, due to be delivered today, is signed by more than 140 tech companies, prominent technologists and civil society groups.

The signatories urge Obama to follow the group’s unanimous recommendation that the government should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards” and not “in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable” commercial software.

The FBI has been pushing increasingly hard to require tech companies to build in backdoor access to their encryption systems to allow access by law enforcement, even going so far as to say that Apple could be responsible for the death of a child. a NY District Attorney has also cited public safety as justification for demanding access to encrypted data.

The letter calling on Obama to reject this argument is also signed by five members of a presidential review group appointed by Obama in 2013 to assess technology policies in the wake of leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Many in the tech industry have pointed out that, aside from the obvious concerns over government intrusion into the private lives of its citizens, any backdoor used by the government could potentially be discovered and exploited by hackers and foreign governments.

National Security Agency Stories April 14, 2015

Prankster games Google Maps business listing to place Edward Snowden in the White House

A prankster has gamed the Google Maps business listing function to make it appear that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden is resident in the White House.

Google said that the listing, first spotted by Marketing Landwas originally verified for a snowboard shop of that name elsewhere, with the location subsequently edited. Either the prankster or others have added reviews, one of which says that it’s a “great source of classified information.”

Google says that it has removed the listing, but it was still showing up (as above) in Google Maps at the time of writing.

National Security Agency Stories March 26, 2015

patriot-act-reform

Google is one of ten tech giants to once again call on the US Government not to reauthorize the Patriot Act in its current form. The Act expires on 1st June unless it is renewed by Congress. Google was joined by Apple, AOL, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo.

In an open letter to President Obama, NSA Director Admiral Rogers and other prominent government figures, the companies urge Congress to end the bulk collection of communications metadata–the logs that determine how and when ordinary citizens contact each other.

The letter says that mass surveillance must end, and that a revised bill must contain mechanisms to ensure that future government surveillance is both transparent and accountable …  expand full story

National Security Agency Stories March 13, 2014

Photo: Li Xin for AFP/Getty Images

Photo: Li Xin for AFP/Getty Images

The Washington Post reports that Google has begun automatically encrypting web searches carried out in China to defeat government monitoring and censorship, and plans to continue rolling out the program globally to prevent monitoring by the NSA.

China’s Great Firewall, as its censorship system is known, has long intercepted searches for information it deemed politically sensitive. Google’s growing use of encryption there means that government monitors are unable to detect when users search for sensitive terms, such as “Dalai Lama” or “Tiananmen Square,” because the encryption makes them appear as indecipherable strings of numbers and letters …  expand full story

National Security Agency Stories December 6, 2013

Following a year of mixed messaging and confusion regarding government access to personal data and how companies are handling the issue, Google is putting it’s support behind a petition demanding the United States government require a warrant before accessing email of private citizens.

[tweet https://twitter.com/ericschmidt/status/408987436945907712]

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt tweeted a link to the company’s post on Google+:

Doesn’t the stuff you keep online deserve the same protection as the stuff you keep offline? Under a law called ECPA, government agencies in the U.S. can see what you’ve written and stored online without a warrant. Sign this petition to the White House and tell the government to get a warrant!

The petition originated on November 12, 2013, and requires just over 42,000 signatures by December 12, 2013, to mean the threshold for a response from the White House. At the time of this writing, just over 57,000 signatures have been collected on the online petition.

The full petition reads as follows: expand full story

National Security Agency Stories November 5, 2013

Microsoft’s sleazy “Scroogled” campaign continues with “email privacy” microsite

Microsoft’s continued attempts to make itself look like the good guy against Google continue with a microsite called keepyouremailprivate.com.

In a blatant attempt to liken Google’s automated scanning of email keywords to generate targeted advertising to the NSA scandal, Microsoft refers to it as an ‘invasion of your privacy.’

Google goes through every Gmail that’s sent or received, looking for keywords so they can target Gmail users with paid ads. And there’s no way to opt out of this invasion of your privacy.

Microsoft has reportedly spent a seven-figure sum on its Scroogled campaign. Perhaps if it had invested a bit more cash on modernizing its offerings a few years ago, it wouldn’t need to be spending so much on this embarrassing nonsense today …

National Security Agency Stories November 4, 2013

[protected-iframe id=”b39f4611921b09f9ac17e6fc7b8a4f06-22427743-8994189″ info=”http://live.wsj.com/public/page/embed-EDDA7151_9316_4F64_80FA_EFC2F9F707BD.html” width=”512″ height=”288″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”]

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt expressed his shock at reports that the NSA tapped into the internal communications links between Google servers, describing it as “outrageous” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The claim was made as part of the ongoing PRISM revelations.

It’s really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that’s true. The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people’s privacy, it’s not OK …  expand full story

National Security Agency Stories November 1, 2013

Google and other leading tech companies support USA Freedom Act to limit NSA powers

Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL have all signed an open letter expressing support for the USA Freedom Act co-sponsored by Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner. The Act, if passed, would outlaw the NSA’s speculative bulk collection of data and allow the companies to be far more transparent about the data they are obliged to make available to the government.

As companies whose services are used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, we welcome the debate about how to protect both national security and privacy interests and we applaud the sponsors of the USA Freedom Act for making an important contribution to this discussion.

The companies had previously complained that gag orders forced them to issue denials that were technically true but misleading. They had asked to be allowed to release more specific figures about the number of demands they receive for personal data.

This letter goes further, in supporting moves to actually limit the powers the government would have to gain access to the data in the first place.

Transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to be done. Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs.

In introducing the bill, Senator Leahy said “The government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act are far broader than the American people previously understood. Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough.”

The Verge reports that Google is tightening the security of its internal networks, and that Twitter has already moved to encrypt direct messages.

Full text of the open letter below.

 October 31, 2013

The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate 224 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Michael S. Lee Member, Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate 316 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. Ranking Member, Committee on the Judiciary U.S. House of Representatives 2138 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Frank James Sensenbrenner, Jr. Member, Committee on the Judiciary U.S. House of Representatives 2449 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Dear Messrs. Chairman, Ranking Members and Members:

As companies whose services are used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, we welcome the debate about how to protect both national security and privacy interests and we applaud the sponsors of the USA Freedom Act for making an important contribution to this discussion.

Recent disclosures regarding surveillance activity raise important concerns both in the United States and abroad. The volume and complexity of the information that has been disclosed in recent months has created significant confusion here and around the world, making it more difficult to identify appropriate policy prescriptions. Our companies have consistently made clear that we only respond to legal demands for customer and user information that are targeted and specific. Allowing companies to be transparent about the number and nature of requests will help the public better understand the facts about the government’s authority to compel technology companies to disclose user data and how technology companies respond to the targeted legal demands we receive. Transparency in this regard will also help to counter erroneous reports that we permit intelligence agencies “direct access” to our companies’ servers or that we are participants in a bulk Internet records collection program

Transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to be done. Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs.

We also continue to encourage the Administration to increase its transparency efforts and allow us to release more information about the number and types of requests that we receive, so that the public debate on these issues can be informed by facts about how these programs operate. We urge the Administration to work with Congress in addressing these critical reforms that would provide much needed transparency and help rebuild the trust of Internet users around the world.

We look forward to working with you, the co-sponsors of your bills, and other members on legislation that takes into account the need of governments to keep individuals around the world safe as well as the legitimate privacy interests of our users around the world.

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