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Google Asks Government For More Transparency, Other Groups Push Back Against NSA 323

Nerval's Lobster writes "In an open letter addressed to U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and FBI director Robert Mueller, Google chief legal officer David Drummond again insisted that reports of his company freely offering user data to the NSA and other agencies were untrue. 'However,' he wrote, '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.' In light of that, Drummond had a request of the two men: '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.' Apparently Google's numbers would show 'that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made.' Google, Drummond added, 'has nothing to hide.'" Another open letter was sent to Congress from a variety of internet companies and civil liberties groups (headlined by Mozilla, the EFF, the ACLU, and the FSF), asking them to enact legislation to prohibit the kind of surveillance apparently going on at the NSA and to hold accountable the people who implemented it. (A bipartisan group of senators has just come forth with legislation that would end such surveillance.) In addition to the letter, the ACLU sent a lawsuit as well, directed at President Obama, Eric Holder, the NSA, Verizon and the Dept. of Justice (filing, PDF). They've also asked (PDF) for a release of court records relevant to the scandal. Mozilla has also launched, a campaign to "demand a full accounting of the extent to which our online data, communications and interactions are being monitored." Other reactions: Tim Berners-Lee is against it, Australia's Foreign Minister doesn't mind it, the European Parliament has denounced it, and John Oliver is hilarious about it (video). Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked the information about the NSA's surveillance program, is being praised widely as a hero and a patriot. There's already a petition on to pardon him for his involvement, and it's already reached half the required number of signatures for a response from the Obama administration.
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Google Asks Government For More Transparency, Other Groups Push Back Against NSA

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  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @05:53PM (#43978985)

    Keep writing your Congressmen AND your local media outlets. Actually, write a letter, email it again, then call and leave a brief message about the same topic. And, make it clear that you will vote them out on that issue. They do cave in when they think their jobs are on the line.

  • by bl968 ( 190792 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @05:58PM (#43979039) Journal

    I have been thinking about the claims by Facebook and Google that no government agencies have direct access to their servers, and that is likely quite correct.

    What they do most likely have, is a tap point on Facebook's and Google's networks which can then snoop on all traffic between their servers and their users and visa versa then ship it off en masse to the NSA for processing and storage... So their statements while technically true, are still intentionally false and misleading.

    It's been well known that the government has had these taps on the major phone company networks and the internet backbone for years.

  • by cervesaebraciator ( 2352888 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:03PM (#43979103)
    If you're concerned about customer pushback from this surveillance, support the EFF like the gun industry supports the NRA. May the EFF be as effective in defending our first and fourth amendment rights as the NRA is at going after any opposition to the second.
  • by BUL2294 ( 1081735 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:05PM (#43979119)
    Given everything that I've heard about PRISM over the past few days, I have one major question...

    How do they know who is a US citizen and who isn't?

    I don't remember being asked nor answering a "citizenship question" when signing up for GMail, Hotmail, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, etc. Is the NSA data matching names to (known) citizens and throwing out that data? Kinda tough to accurately do so for the "Bill Smiths" of the world, not all of which live in the US. Are they building a profile of everyone by address, thus assuming US residents are "citizens"? If I set up a fake Hotmail account as "Bubbles Sanchez" and say I live in Miami (and my ISP says I'm in Miami), does that make me and my data a "citizen" in the eyes of the NSA?

    Or are they simply vacuuming up everything from these sites and TELLING US they're not looking at US citizens' data, simply because they don't have a decent way (let alone a fool-proof one) to tell who is a citizen or not?
  • by bl968 ( 190792 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:06PM (#43979129) Journal

    If that was the case then the NSA slides would not have listed both Google and Facebook as being onboard and partners in their PRISM system.

  • by dunng808 ( 448849 ) <garydunnhi&gmail,com> on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:10PM (#43979183) Journal

    David Drummond got it just right. I do think wide scale monitoring should stop, but shedding some light on what really is happening is necessary to gain the voter's trust.

    Big Government is more than just government. These are people, with agendas, who will abuse their power to achieve their personal objectives, wrapped in a shroud of doing what's right for the country. Then there is political party affiliation, where too often people are loyal to the point of treading on their opponents rights. Big Government puts power in the hands of individual people, and that is where it is abused.

  • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:11PM (#43979195) Homepage Journal

    One you missed:

    "Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry." -- Thomas Jefferson

  • Petition (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:11PM (#43979197)
    Just signed it. Took a set of brass balls for Snowden to do what he did and, yes, he is a real patriot for standing up for the civil rights and liberties of the American people.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:12PM (#43979201)

    They will continue to say 'no direct access' or whatever other prepared 'legal' bullshit re-definition of common sense they've cooked up.

    They bottom line is that they are blatantly violating the constitution and directly offending virtually every single American in this country. This is a clear and present a danger to personal freedom as there can be.

    Everyone should take an hour this weekend and use to the internet to see what their sitting reps and senators voted on atrocities like the Patriot Act, etc.

    Vote these people out. Then demand that whomever takes their place repeal all of this garbage. Then we can move on to the bankers...

  • by udachny ( 2454394 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:15PM (#43979233) Journal

    I'm usually a big government, bleeding heart liberal, but not in the areas of governmental police powers (monitoring citizens, etc). Basically, if the government is helping it's citizens, I support that (healthcare, etc) but if it's looking at it's citizens to protect itself, I don't like that at all.

    - you, and others like you are the problem.

    You gave the government its power to abuse the law, the Constitution, you gave the government ability to go above and beyond what is authorized by the Constitution to the government when you stand for things like 'helping citizens'.

    The only way a government can really help citizens is by providing EQUAL TREATMENT UNDER LAW, which is where equal opportunities come from, which is what allows for maximum individual freedom. It is individual freedom that grows the economy by giving people incentives and removing barriers that prevent them from trying to get rich by building a better, cheaper product.

    People are served best not by any government with growing powers, people are served best by other people trying to figure out how to serve people in the most efficient way possible by doing what people are actually interested in.

    You are the root cause that created this problem, never a solution to anything.

  • Burn It (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KeensMustard ( 655606 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:17PM (#43979253)
    Burn it in the only way you can. Write letters, protest at every opportunity, and in every forum.

    Be polite if you can, but recognise that social graces have their place, and if need be, you might need to be rude. Don't let quislings tell you "it's for the safety/the family/the children" without confronting them. Don't let quislings tell you "it's the fault of KODOS" they are just trying to make this a different discussion they can control.

    We've all felt helpless for far too long. I say "we" I'm not an american, but every western country has seen this creeping up on them. I'm not stupid enough to imagine that the NSA doesn't keep data on me if that serves some commercial or political advantage for some client. So we stand with you. You aren't helpless. The pen is still mightier than the sword.

  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:17PM (#43979255)

    One of the best comments was from John Oliver on the Daily Show.

    His best line was something like "we're not accusing you of breaking any laws, we're just surprised you didn't."

    He also pointed out how the FISA courts, which are there to oversee any surveillance requests, have literally never denied a request. That's some good rubber-stamping action there.

  • by jpc1957 ( 1820122 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:21PM (#43979277)
    Innocent individuals identified as suspects are the biggest issue to me. For all those people that say there isn't any issue with any level of snooping if you don't have anything to hide, you are exactly who should be worried. The more data available to analyze, the more false positives will be identified. And the attitude now is we can't risk any potential terrorist falling through the cracks. Combine that with gag orders, security letters instead of warrants, sting operations, indefinite determent.. It's guaranteed that some very unlucky and completely innocent people will be going through hell for a long time.
  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:28PM (#43979337)

    They do cave in when they think their jobs are on the line..

    But they aren't. Everyone in every national-level election for the past twenty years has had their campaign paid for by the same people, often these same people (and groups) sponsored both candidates. And when they leave Congress, they'll have a job waiting for them with one of those groups... on one condition: They don't listen to you or your concerns.

    The most we get anymore now from public outrage is this -- open letters that basically say "Nothing is wrong and we're working to fix it as quickly as possible!"

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:38PM (#43979423) Homepage Journal
    It's just because they got caught. We were all screaming about Carnivore back in the 90's and no one listened. The histronics associated with the realization that various TLAs are listening to all communications are disingenuous at best or the result of really, really bad journalists at worst. This story is not a story. It was a story two decades ago.
  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:45PM (#43979483)

    And YOU should write. Do not let companies defend your rights, because they are not interested in them.
    Do not say later: we didn't know.

  • https (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jdogalt ( 961241 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:59PM (#43979611) Journal

    Actually, they don't need access to Google and Facebook data, they have direct access to all communications at the connection points [].

    umm... https dude

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:02PM (#43979633)

    David Drummond got it just right.

    David Drummond got it completely wrong. He's either openly lieing or an idiot. The NSA doesn't have to let Google know they are taking data from them. If the NSA thinks they have the legal authority, they'll just plant their own DBAs at google, give themselves API access and run whatever queries they want against their data anytime they want. It's not like Google could tell given the amount of transactions they're likely seeing in a day. Likely the only reason Google ever sees a FISA request is because the data needs to be used in court.

    There is an active and concerted effort to play down what's actually happened here. Remember that the united states spends 80 BILLION dollars on intelligence a year. They have several data centers that dwarf even Google in size. They pull more power than most large cities to run them. Do you really think this is limited to a few thousand or even hundred thousand data requests per year? The feds have access to all the data... from every large company... they are storing it, querying it, and likely doing all of this without a court order. Our government is completely out of control, this has to stop, and it's up to them to prove they've limited their surveillance, it's not up to us to trust them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:04PM (#43979665)

    Big Government is more than just government.

      “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube [and] Apple.” (NSA Presentation)

    In the US, your problem is that you have fascism, not big government.

  • by jdogalt ( 961241 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:13PM (#43979739) Journal

    you sound a little like the Ayn Randian Libertarian I was 20 years ago. I suggest you pay a little more attention to the intimacy that our relatively recent history with outright slavery, and subtler forms of exploiting those who in various large subsets of humanity, have had their freedom of speech severely curtailed with no recourse to any effective system of justice.

    Not only do I think your final sentence borders on silly (that the person you are replying to is the 'root cause' of these woes), but I think you are generally wrong. Having social safety nets in place, amongst a system that is almost unavoidably quite leisse-fair predatory (predatory in the sense that some of the winners are completely content winning while directly profiting from some of the losers that they are clearly, directly, stifling the free speech or other rights of)- ... is a good idea.

    Now, I do believe that charity should generally be voluntary. But giving a person shelter, food, and clothing, rather than watching them waste away in the elements, is not only a pleasant thing to do, but also overall net profitable to everyone who failed to see the better wisdom of putting forth the effort necessary to have those safety nets sufficiently in place that there is no demand for a governmental safety net.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:21PM (#43979809)

    Then there is political party affiliation, where too often people are loyal to the point of treading on their opponents rights.

    I want to comment on this point specifically because what you wrote is a common misunderstanding of such events. Their political opponents are just collateral damage - they are treading on the right of the citizenry to have a fair and representative government. Such actions are a crime against all of us regardless of party affiliation because they are essentially an attack on the democratic process itself.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:29PM (#43979883)

    > Unless that 'revelation' was intentional misdirection.

    Doubt it. This isn't cold war spy-vs-spy stuff with levels on levels and double and triple agents. The "enemy" is a bunch of random dudes with basically no espionage capability - the idea of al qaeda or even the muslim brotherhood infiltrating anything in the US is just patently absurd. There is no reason for internal NSA documents to contain misleading information because there is no one to mislead - they get to straight out lie in testimony to congress, that's more than enough misdirection to cover any plausible risk.

  • by Faizdog ( 243703 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:48PM (#43980013)

    You know what's so scary about stuff like this? It's that it makes people afraid of what they will post and discuss. One absurd end of the spectrum is what I've heard Soviet Russia was sometimes like, people always afraid of what they said to whom.

    I'm a naturalized US citizen. Due to my country of origin, I'm probably already on some watch list somewhere, despite the fact that I've never done anything remotely dangerous.
    Now, I figure that give mes some points on some kind of a danger/threat scale.

    This issue is something I care deeply about. Over the last few days, I've been hesitant about drawing attention to it and responding to it online/via electronic communications. I've posted on Slashdot about it, sent emails and texts to friends and relatives, posted about it on my Facebook status, submitted e-mailed letters to my congressional representatives through the EFF website, donated to the EFF and ACLU, read newspaper stories, articles, websites and commentaries, etc.

    At each step, I've been afraid. What if being linked to this type of activity gives me more points on some kind of a danger scale? What if I cross a threshold? What if the government starts making my life difficult in subtle ways? Trouble flying? I am planning on marrying someone from my country of origin, what if my application to sponsor them for a greencard is denied? What if, what if?

    That's the real trouble, this type of activity raises concerns and issues in people's daily lives. It creates a culture of fear. At the end of the day, I became a US citizen because I believe in the opportunity this country provides, and in the legal basis it was founded on, and the human rights it supposedly supports. I want to do whatever I can to support my country, and exercise my rights as a citizen to correct what I perceive are wrongs.

    I'm really hoping that this advocacy doesn't hurt me in the future somehow. That's the real harm when government spies and tracks with a carte blanche, people who are doing nothing wrong but have much to lose are afraid.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:09PM (#43980167)

    David Drummond got it just right. I do think wide scale monitoring should stop, but shedding some light on what really is happening is necessary to gain the voter's trust.

    Why should that be necessary? All that should be needed is a single judge to say that general warrants are unconstitutional. In the opinion, the judge could note that general warrants were one of the causes of the Revolutionary War. The judge could go on and say that the Virginia Declaration of Rights expressly forbid general warrants, which was then used to inspire the 4th Amendment. The judge would finally say that anybody who used general warrants should be tarred and feathered, just like the Founding Fathers would have done. Finally, the judge would note that fundamental freedoms are not subject to the whim of voters. This is why we have a Constitution.

  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:26PM (#43980289)

    I'm not sure where you got "trust our government" out of that, but there'll be no clean sweep of anything. There will be kicking and screaming and feet dragging and lots of weird jingoistic aphorisms kicked around for a while.

    Then it will continue, perhaps slightly hobbled. I'm not saying that I agree that it should continue, rather, the reality is you're up against very serious money and lots of misguided do-gooders here.

    The worst problem: people now mistrust their governments more than ever. Transparency is in the crapper. It's not like we geeks didn't realize this was likely decades ago, rather, it's the revelation that once again, our worst fears are realized-- by our own paid officials.

  • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:39PM (#43980411) Journal

    Because the line is a general versus specific warrant. The founding fathers did not want the king's men able to, under orders from the king, kicking in door after to door to see if you're doing anything wrong. So you need a specific warrant from a judge. "We have probable cause to believe this named guy is doing this illegal thing and so we're going to search this place for this object."

    And the judge can't just rubber stamp it because when the evidence obtained via the warrant is used in the trial, if the warrant was obtained or used improperly, the evidence can be thrown out. That stamp is a safeguard for the citizen, and a check on the power of government, because executive officers (police) who either seek or use warrants improperly are liable to be fired.

    But this is not that. This is a general warrant. This is "all phone records," not just "phone records of terror suspect Abdul from time A to time B."

    And there's several ways to use this data, all of which are horrible in a "free" society.

    1) The precedent is set. No judicial oversight is required to be declared an "enemy combatant." Holder has informed us that "due" process is required, but that is not necessarily a judicial process. A process of the President deciding "that guy's an enemy combatant" exists (by saying so), so that's all legal. And once you're an enemy combatant, you can be detained indefinitely, tortured, and executed (via drone), even if you're a US citizen. And nobody will give a shit, and it will all be legal.

    2) Via the spying, "legal" metadata or "illegal" actual data, they identify you as an undesirable. Perhaps you're actually engaged in something illegal they'd like to stop. A whisper to an FBI agent, "hey, watch that guy." Then the FBI gets a legal warrant, busts you, and the fact that they knew to start watching you because of the super secret NSA spying is unknown and basically irrelevant.

    3) Same as 2, but perhaps you're just a political dissident or a critic of the administration or the NSA. Or maybe you cut an NSA agent off in traffic. Who knows. Since everything is now illegal, you're always doing something wrong. They just have to find it, and since they know everything you've done, everywhere you've been, everyone you've talked to, everything you've bought and everything you've sold and every picture of your dick you've texted. What to do what to do...arrest you for violating the terms of use of a website via the CFAA like Aaron Schwartz? Audit your taxes like a Tea Partier? Reveal your affair to your wife? Make your boss aware of how much time you're spending on Slashdot? Somebody could ruin your life in all sorts of ways. Those ways might be "illegal" but how would you know that's how or why you were ruined?

    It is point and click tyranny.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @09:27PM (#43980765)

    > This story is not a story. It was a story two decades ago.

    That doesn't mean we shouldn't take the opportunity to fix the problem. Who cares if the shit is fresh, its still shit that needs to be flushed out.

The relative importance of files depends on their cost in terms of the human effort needed to regenerate them. -- T.A. Dolotta