Google informed its users that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been secretly spying on them using a special form of surveillance called the National Security Letters. The software company managed to attain an unprecedented level of transparency by negotiating with the government so they would inform users that they are being investigated, says Fox News.
FBI has made use of a detailed form of surveillance called the National Security Letter to obtain information about its users. Google did not reveal the reasons behind FBI’s decision to investigate online users, but they have been through various efforts before they were allowed to disclose users that they are being watched.
Even though Google decided to be transparent with its users, Dan Auerbach and Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, still regard FBI’s intervention with disfavor. In their opinion, there are many other questions that remain unanswered in relation to the use of the National Security Letters. The two scientists would have liked to know how many National Security Letters have been used, given that the FBI issued 16,511 NSL in 2011. Google was not allowed to disclose the exact number of the National Security Letters they have received from the bureau.
The letters enable FBI to request information about users from telecommunication companies. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Patriot Act are the two laws that grant authorities permission to send National Security Letters to companies and obtain information. Normally, companies are not allowed to acknowledge the request for information, so Google was the first to reveal such aspects to its users.
The search giant’s notification was first published on one of Google’s blogs inviting people to see how many user data requests have been made in the United States. “Visit our page on user data requests in the U.S. and you’ll see, in broad strokes, how many NSLs for user data Google receives, as well as the number of accounts in question,” said Richard Salgado, the Google’s director of law enforcement and information security. On the other hand, Google understands that authorities need to verify users because some of them deal with illegal activities.