PRISM Stories March 13, 2014

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

PRISM Stories December 8, 2013

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google has joined Microsoft, Twitter, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, and other giants in the tech industry in calling for a reform of the NSA’s surveillance tactics. Earlier this year it was revealed that the National Security Agency was using information from these companies and more to monitor citizens across the nation without warrants.

The companies allegedly involved in the “PRISM” program denied turning over any user data to the government, but a leaked NSA slidedeck (seen above) seemed to imply the opposite.

The new collaborative campaign, called Reform Government Surveillance, cites five driving principles in its drive to curb excessive government spying:

expand full story

Deal: Get Pixelbook at 25% off: $750!

PRISM Stories November 4, 2013

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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

PRISM 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.

PRISM Stories July 17, 2013

Privacy protection in the apps we use on a daily basis has been a big topic of conversation following accusations that Google and other large tech companies were working with government agencies to provide user data. Google has worked tirelessly to clear its name during the scandal, and today CNET reports that the company is testing encryption for Drive files that could further keep its users’ data protected from prying eyes.

As a reminder, Google does not currently encrypt files store in its Drive cloud storage service, but rather only encrypts files being transferred on their way to Drive: expand full story

PRISM Stories June 11, 2013

Following Google’s denial of being involved in the PRISM surveillance claims in which the National Security Agency was accused of tapping into servers of 9 tech companies for details of user activity, Google today published a letter it just sent to the U.S. government requesting the release of more national security request data.

Google this morning sent a letter to the Attorney General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation asking that it be allowed to publish “aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope.”

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 continued by noting that the numbers “would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.”

The full letter is below: expand full story

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