Worldwide, the numbers continue to rise: excluding FISA and NSL demands, we’ve seen a 15% increase since the second half of last year, and a 150% jump since we first began publishing this data in 2009. In the U.S., those increases are 19% and 250%, respectively.
This increase in government demands comes against a backdrop of ongoing revelations about government surveillance programs. Despite these revelations, we have seen some countries expand their surveillance authorities in an attempt to reach service providers outside their borders. Others are considering similar measures. The efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice and other countries to improve diplomatic cooperation will help reduce the perceived need for these laws, but much more remains to be done.
Governments have a legitimate and important role in fighting crime and investigating national security threats. To maintain public confidence in both government and technology, we need legislative reform that ensures surveillance powers are transparent, reasonably scoped by law, and subject to independent oversight.
The USA FREEDOM Act, introduced by Senators Leahy (D-VT), Lee (R-UT), Franken (D-MN) and Heller (R-NV) would prevent the bulk collection of Internet metadata under various legal authorities, allow us to be more transparent about the volume, scope and type of national security demands that we receive, and would create stronger oversight and accountability mechanisms. Congress should move now to enact this legislation into law.
Congress should also update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to make it clear that the government must obtain a search warrant before it can compel a service provider to disclose the content of a user’s communication. Legislation introduced in the House by Representatives Yoder (R-KS), Graves (R-GA) and Polis (D-CO) and in the Senate by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Lee (R-UT) would create a warrant-for-content standard that protects the Fourth Amendment rights of Internet users.
This common-sense reform is now supported by a broad range of consumer groups, trade associations, and companies that comprise the Digital Due Process coalition. Additionally, more than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging the White House to back this bill, which enjoys bipartisan support from 266 House Members (well over a majority of the House) and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in April 2013.
There is a growing consensus in support of these reforms. In the remaining days of this session, Congress has a chance to pass historic legislation that will help restore trust that has been lost. We urge them to seize upon this opportunity.
Posted by Richard Salgado, Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security
Last year, President Obama directed the Intelligence Community to be more transparent about government surveillance programs, which led to a promise by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to release a transparency report concerning national security orders it issues on an annual basis. Today, the U.S. government released its first transparency report containing statistics around national security orders for user data to Internet and telecom companies. This is a step in the right direction of increasing trust in both government and Internet services, and it demonstrates again that governments can embrace transparency while protecting national security. We applaud this first step, and strongly encourage other countries to follow suit, though there is still more to be done.
First, the government reports in a manner that makes it impossible to compare its report with the report of companies, such as the Google Transparency Report. Specifically, the government has chosen to disclose an estimated number of “targets” that it has surveilled, rather than the number of “accounts” at issue. This means that where the “target” is an organization composed of many people, and the government uses FISA to require disclosure of information from many different providers about the many accounts used by those people, covering a broad array of services, it may only report that there was one target. By contrast, in our methodology, and that used by other companies, we each would count the number of accounts impacted by a particular surveillance request. The government could provide more meaningful transparency by specifying the number of accounts too.
Second, we would like to see the federal government report on its national security demands with more information about the targets than it does today. Companies like Google can only provide a limited snapshot of how national security authorities are used. The Department of Justice, however, can provide a complete picture. To that end, we support legislation proposed by Senator Franken in August of 2013 that would mandate that the U.S. government release statistics around the number of both citizens and non-citizens whose information is collected and the scale and scope of the search and review of that data.
Finally, we gave early support for USA Freedom Act provisions which would allow companies to provide greater detail about the volume, scope, and type of national security demands that we ourselves receive for user data. Last month, the House version of the USA Freedom Act made improvements on the terms set out by the Department of Justice, and we hope that the Senate paves the way for companies to share more details about the national security demands that we receive.
I’m excited to see how far this debate has come; a year ago almost no one would have imagined that the federal government would release data about its national security demands to companies. These steps show that national security and transparency for the public are not in competition. We also hope that governments around the world will follow the lead of the U.S. government and be more open about the national security demands they serve on service providers and put out comparable transparency reports. Congress, and other governments around the world, should build on these steps.
The revelations about government surveillance practices—both in the U.S. and globally—over the past eight months have sparked a serious and overdue debate about the nature and scope of existing laws and programs. Today, many organizations and companies are participating in “The Day We Fight Back,” a series of events and awareness campaigns highlighting the urgent need for surveillance reform around the world.
Google recognizes the very real threats that the U.S. and other countries face, but we strongly believe that government surveillance programs should operate under a legal framework that is rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight.
In December, along with other technology companies, we unveiled a set of government surveillance reform principles that address many of the recent concerns around government surveillance. In Congress, Representative Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Senator Leahy (D-Vt.) have introduced legislation—the USA Freedom Act—that would codify many of these principles. As they both noted when introducing this bill, government surveillance programs “have come at a high cost to Americans’ privacy rights, business interests and standing in the international community.”
The USA Freedom Act reflects some of the key recommendations made by the President’s Review Group on Intelligence Communications and Technologies as well as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. We support this legislation and we urge Congress to enact it into law.
But there’s more that can be done as we consider appropriate reforms to government surveillance laws. Congress should update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to require governmental entities to obtain a warrant before they can compel online companies to disclose the content of users’ communications. Legislation introduced by Senators Leahy and Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate and Representatives Yoder (R-Kan.), Graves (R-Ga.), and Polis (D-Colo.) in the House would achieve that goal. More than 100 companies, trade associations, and consumer groups—and more than 100,000 Americans—have signed on to support this important update to ECPA, which no longer reflects users’ reasonable expectations of privacy.
We will continue to press Congress to adopt these important measures, which would represent significant progress in the broader effort to reform government surveillance laws. If you want to receive updates from us, please visit google.com/takeaction and sign up.
Posted by Richard Salgado, Director, Law Enforcement & Information Security and Pablo Chavez, Director, Public Policy and Government Affairs
Today we filed an amended petition [PDF] in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This petition mirrors the requests made to Congress and the President by our industry and civil liberties groups in a letter earlier this year. Namely, that Google be allowed to publish detailed statistics about the types (if any) of national security requests we receive under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, including Section 702. Given the important public policy issues at stake, we have also asked the court to hold its hearing in open rather than behind closed doors. It’s time for more transparency.
In addition, along with a number of other companies and trade associations, we are also meeting the President’s Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies today. We’ll reiterate the same message there: that the levels of secrecy that have built up around national security requests undermine the basic freedoms that are at the heart of a democratic society.
Robert Kyncl, Vice President, Global Head of Content Partnerships for YouTube