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Google Reveals It Received Secret FBI Subpoena (theintercept.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Intercept: Google revealed Wednesday it had been released from an FBI gag order that came with a secret demand for its customers' personal information. The FBI secret subpoena, known as a national security letter, does not require a court approval. Investigators simply need to clear a low internal bar demonstrating that the information is "relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." The national security letter issued to Google was mentioned without fanfare in Google's latest bi-annual transparency report, which includes information on government requests for data the company received from around the world in the first half of 2016. Google received the secret subpoena in first half of 2015, according to the report. An accompanying blog post titled "Building on Surveillance Reform," also identified new countries that made requests -- Algeria, Belarus, and Saudi Arabia among them -- and reveals that Google saw an increase in requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But Google in its short blog post did not publish the contents of the actual letter the way other companies, including Yahoo, have done in recent months. Asked about plans to release the national security letter, a Google spokesperson told The Intercept it will release it, though it wouldn't say when or in what form it will do so. Google hasn't previously published any national security letters, though it's possible gag orders for prior demands are still in place. It's also unclear why Google wouldn't immediately publish the document -- unless the gag is only partially lifted, or the company is involved in ongoing litigation to challenge the order, neither of which were cited as reasons for holding it back
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Google Reveals It Received Secret FBI Subpoena

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  • by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Saturday October 15, 2016 @09:21AM (#53080969)

    I'm going to write my congressmen and demand to know if they are in the pocket of major technology companies, and if not, offer them a list of suggestions.

  • Anything (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's at the point now where an NSL letter could be generated for any frivolous crime. Caught shoplifting? Let's issue an NSL letter and target the guys entire family. Separate laws for the knights and lords. Common peasants will always be fucked.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Common peasants will always be fucked.

      Judging from the candidates they nominate, it appears that is the way they like it and want more of the same. Otherwise they would vote every incumbent out of the house instead of reelecting 95% of them. So, please, place the blame where it belongs. Remember, the "system" is us.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 15, 2016 @09:49AM (#53081033)

    Anyone who is still storing anything of any importance in the US or with a US company is essentially wilfully consenting to the US government snooping into their data for any use they see fit and storing it forever. It is abundantly clear that US companies cannot be trusted with personal data, even if the company itself means no harm. The US government has made them all complicit in its relentless war on privacy. Some fight it, others cooperate enthousiastically, but the end result is the same: the US government gets your data and the company that handed it over cannot even tell you.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Saturday October 15, 2016 @10:06AM (#53081073) Homepage Journal

      Anyone who is still storing anything of any importance in the US or with a US company is essentially wilfully consenting to the US government snooping into their data for any use

      This is nothing new, as the United States has next to no data protection laws, and even fewer international agreements. US companies have always carried a risk of them selling the data to others, including the government. What changed post-2011 is that it's now easier for US government agencies to get data without bidding for it.

      • What changed post-2011 is that it's now easier for US government agencies to get data without bidding for it.

        Implying that pre-2011 agencies paid for data. This is a common notion on /. and elsewhere, but I've seen no evidence anywhere that government agencies ever paid for data.

        Do you know of some?

        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          I know of several times that the US govt paid for data, but the data wasn't exactly private data, and the purchase wasn't secret. They may also have done it with private data, or have kept their purchase secret, but I don't know about those cases. And it may well depend on which arm of the federal government you are dealing with.

          • I know of several times that the US govt paid for data, but the data wasn't exactly private data, and the purchase wasn't secret. They may also have done it with private data, or have kept their purchase secret, but I don't know about those cases. And it may well depend on which arm of the federal government you are dealing with.

            What, you mean like above-board purchase of GIS mapping data or such? What we're talking about is purchase of information about people that would normally require a court order to compel. There's a common belief that companies have been selling user data to government agencies as a secret profit center, but I can't find any example. We know that telcos were giving them huge amounts of data, but there doesn't seem to have been any fee for it.

  • by allo ( 1728082 ) on Saturday October 15, 2016 @10:02AM (#53081065)

    Let's say somebody accidentally publishes the scan of the incoming letter on the homepage. Just for a short time, until he err notices. Internally nobody knows, who make this mistake, but now several people downloaded it and it's trending on reddit.

    What happens next?

    • Then the witch hunt begins to ruin that persons life either financially (court, unemployable after), through jail time, or both.

      They *WILL* sacrifice someone innocent or not, nobody knows who did it isn't acceptable to the gov't.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I wouldn't put it past the Feds to use an event like that to investigate every employee. That way they can find all sorts of leverage on internal resources and make a few examples to insure future compliance.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What happens next?

      Given that the NSLs arrive in physical form, with an FBI agent (well, at least two) attached (and if you think removing staples is hard, try removing an FBI agent from a stack of paper), "accidents" are hard to explain/justify. And the laws involved in disclosure are serious felonies. Someone ends up going to prison for a long long time.

      • by allo ( 1728082 )

        okay. They got the letter with some agents attached. Don't they get the piece of paper? If not ... they at least get all relevant information, as what (who) they want, that this actually IS a NSL and so on. Some rumors which may be more or less confidential dending ond the handling of the issue.

        I do not even mean to be disobedient about some measures, but transparent. This means, give them the suspect's data, but make sure your users know, that their data be at risk.

        Looking at lavabit, it they must have som

    • by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Saturday October 15, 2016 @11:32AM (#53081303)

      First, Google has been released from the gag order on this NSL, so as I understand it Google could publish the letter now with no penalty.

      Second, the constitutionality of these gag orders has been seriously challenged [networkworld.com], so if Google was willing a fight they could probably publish any NSL they wished. Gag orders have historically been the purview of courts, and judges take a dim view of other people doing their job for them.

      Third, it's safe to assume Google tracks revisions to their pages, so yes, they would soon know who made the 'mistake'. Also, a letter like this should be shared with extremely few people within the company, so it shouldn't be hard to follow the chain until suspicious activity is found. Punishment for this sort of mishandling would be limited to a fine [cnn.com], however, so the FBI would go after Google's deep pockets rather than try to pin the crime on an individual. The employee should be safe from criminal charges, though not, presumably, from Google discipline.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        First, Google has been released from the gag order on this NSL, so as I understand it Google could publish the letter now with no penalty.

        As TFA states, it is not clear if the entire gag order has been lifted. There are cases where the order to collect/release data has been rescinded/completed, but the details of the what/who/when are still under wraps.

      • by allo ( 1728082 )

        I am not speaking about this case, but in general. Because my impression is, leaking something like this is what a nice company would try. But they are not allowed to do so. But if enough people know it (so nobody can later be sure, who of the 100 employees were involved in the leak) something may happen. Of course its quickly undone and internet is known for forgetting leaked things really fast. And the revision tracking system just had the need to restore a backup, which sadly overwrote the logs of the ch

      • Third, it's safe to assume Google tracks revisions to their pages, so yes, they would soon know who made the 'mistake'. Also, a letter like this should be shared with extremely few people within the company, so it shouldn't be hard to follow the chain until suspicious activity is found. Punishment for this sort of mishandling would be limited to a fine [cnn.com], however, so the FBI would go after Google's deep pockets rather than try to pin the crime on an individual. The employee should be safe from criminal charges, though not, presumably, from Google discipline.

        Also, it's very likely that the set of people with access to the letter and the set of people with access to the systems to publish the letter are disjoint.

      • however, so the FBI would go after Google's deep pockets rather than try to pin the crime on an individual. The employee should be safe from criminal charges, though not, presumably, from Google discipline.

        How do you know that? If the approval process for publishing something wasn't followed, Google could claim it was hacked internally by an employee and could insist that charges be filed against said employee.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      So few people would have a clearance to see it and the thats the way the US gov likes it.
      A few lawyers and staff install any hardware to log, track, store or split.
      Any person who get the order is profiled to ensure they have no traits that would on average make them talk to the press.
      Any request would be expressed in terms of the worst crimes to ensure compliance too during that year or decade.
      Talking would let the worst kinds of people escape and break a case that was built over many years.

      The posit
      • by allo ( 1728082 )

        Maybe i underestimate this ...

        I would have thought they come and want me to get them data. No way i let them install something in the server room without internal procedures, which ensure security and so on, that my admins know what happens and why, if they cannot do something with it they need at least to know that someones IS changing things.
        Then i would of course want to talk with other management staff, even when i do not tell them what exactly is happening.

        What you write sounds more like james bond ope

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Companies that comply with secret government requests for information perform a free public service and should be eligible for commensurate tax advantages.

  • So basically if you get caught shoplifting, they'll issue an NSL and target your entire family because er, shoplifting in itself is a national security issue? Where does the line get drawn? They can get whatever they want whenever they want and target you if some prosecutor is pissed? Must be nice for the laws to apply to the common peasants only. The lords and knights, aka cops, prosecutors and judges have different rules to play by right?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    You must assume that anything and everything you do on a computer is visible to others. The old adage "if you don't want someone to read it then don't write it down" applies to the digital world. People need to wake up. The privacy ship sailed when the twin towers fell. We've long since opened Pandora's box. It's going to take a very long time to close it.

  • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Saturday October 15, 2016 @01:54PM (#53081875)
    https://www.whitehouse.gov/the... [whitehouse.gov]
    Sure...you go with that thought process.

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