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FBI 'secretly spying' on Google users, company reveals

national security letters gag order electronic frontier foundation electronic communications privacy act

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#1 Hum

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 21:18

The FBI used National Security Letters -- a form of surveillance that privacy watchdogs call “frightening and invasive” -- to surreptitiously seek information on Google users, the web giant has just revealed.

Google’s disclosure is “an unprecedented win for transparency,” privacy experts said Wednesday. But it’s just one small step forward.

“Serious concerns and questions remain about the use of NSLs,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Dan Auerbach and Eva Galperin wrote. For one thing, the agency issued 16,511 National Security Letters in 2011, the last year for which data was available. But Google was gagged from saying just how many letters it received -- leaving key questions unanswered.

“The terrorists apparently would win if Google told you the exact number of times the Federal Bureau of Investigation invoked a secret process to extract data about the media giant’s customers,” Wired’s David Kravets wrote. He described the FBI's use of NSLs as a way of "secretly spying" on Google's customers.

National Security Letters are a means for the FBI to obtain information on people from telecommunications companies, authorized by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and expanded under the Patriot Act. It lets the agency seek information on a subscriber to a wire or electronic communications service, although not things like the content of their emails or search queries, Google said.

“Of all the dangerous government surveillance powers that were expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Letter (NSL) power … is one of the most frightening and invasive,” the EFF wrote. “These letters … allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens' private communications and Internet activity without any meaningful oversight or prior judicial review.”

No other technology company presently disclose such basic information about government requests, experts noted.

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#2 Steven P.

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 21:22

I don't know what's worse, the frightening amount of information companies like Google and Facebook are giving up to 3rd parties, or the frightening amount of information individuals themselves give up publicly online.

#3 COKid

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 21:24

I don't know what's worse, the frightening amount of information companies like Google and Facebook are giving up to 3rd parties, or the frightening amount of information individuals themselves give up publicly online.


I'd vote the latter.

#4 +techbeck

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 21:28

Not surprised by this at all. Why I dont publicly/privately post personal info online and very rarely use my full/real name. I NEVER give out my phone number or my main email as well.

#5 Reverend Spam

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 21:43

I am not surprised. I predicted a few years ago, on this very website, that Google would become a government backdoor to people's lives... That it would be a means for the FBI to just casually spy on Americans... That google would just "agree" to let it happen w/o the need for a warrant.... Oh look, here we are. :-p

#6 +techbeck

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 22:18

I am not surprised. I predicted a few years ago, on this very website, that Google would become a government backdoor to people's lives... That it would be a means for the FBI to just casually spy on Americans... That google would just "agree" to let it happen w/o the need for a warrant.... Oh look, here we are. :-p


I am willing to bet Google isnt the only company the feds are doing things like this to. Glad Google gave out the info this is happening tho.

#7 +djdanster

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 22:26

Well at least Google is partially open and honest about it...

Does this only include American users? Assuming the ROTW users data is also stored on servers based in America, would the FBI still be within their jurisdiction to "spy" on ROTW users data?

#8 Lexcyn

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 22:33

They can have all the info they want on me, I don't live in the USA. :p

#9 ramesees

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 22:40

Well at least Google is partially open and honest about it...

Does this only include American users? Assuming the ROTW users data is also stored on servers based in America, would the FBI still be within their jurisdiction to "spy" on ROTW users data?


From recent articles, any data stored on US servers is fair game regardless of the person's original country of origin.

It also extends to say that even if your data is stored outside of the US, but is held by an American company (eg the data is stored in Ireland, or France or whatever) then that is still fair game and can be requested by the FBI and such.

Disgusting piece of legislation and is utterly abhorrent.

#10 LaP

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 23:32

Disgusting piece of legislation and is utterly abhorrent.


But ... but ... we need to stop the terrorists.

#11 chrisj1968

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 23:38

Not surprised since Google was started by CIA funding

#12 Torolol

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Posted 08 March 2013 - 00:05

i recently starting to hates youtube & google-based blogs, as it keep pestering me to use my REAL NAME,
hell no, i'll never submit

#13 sagum

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Posted 08 March 2013 - 00:15

i recently starting to hates youtube & google-based blogs, as it keep pestering me to use my REAL NAME,
hell no, i'll never submit


You have to question, what is a real name anyway? It's certainly not your birth certificate. It's not a legal document, and it doesn't even belong to you. Is it your common name, given name, or what you personally consider your name?

You could just use Micky Mouse .. but we do have 'usernames' for a reason and like you, I'd like to use that as my online persona.

#14 Growled

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Posted 08 March 2013 - 01:04

If they have checked up on me I bet they fell asleep somewhere in the middle of it. Yes, I am that boring.

#15 The_Decryptor

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Posted 08 March 2013 - 05:42

I am not surprised. I predicted a few years ago, on this very website, that Google would become a government backdoor to people's lives... That it would be a means for the FBI to just casually spy on Americans... That google would just "agree" to let it happen w/o the need for a warrant.... Oh look, here we are. :-p


You can't really disagree with an NSL though, that's one of the complaints about them (It's gotten better recently, but it's still pretty bad)