A new and intriguing twist has emerged in the ongoing row over PRISM, the US intelligence services’ alleged backdoor into just about every data resource in the country. Last week, the Guardian published a PowerPoint presentation put together by the National Security Agency (NSA) which suggested that tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google have been giving spooks unfettered access to all their customers’ data.
They’ve all denied it, but the Guardian’s proof, along with a video of the man who leaked the documents, seemed pretty incontrovertible.
Now, however, Google is fighting back. Wisely considering its reputation to have been damaged by the whole affair, it’s written an open letter asking the U.S. government to allow Google to publish more national security request data.
It says that it complies with US law, but is hamstrung by non-disclosure agreements to say how it does so. In the letter, David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer for Google says that the firm needs to prove it isn’t being used in the way the Guardian alleges it is:
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. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.
It’s an interesting question – Google is already pretty good at publishing details of requests made by governments to take down data from its search archives, but would this attempt to clear its name be seen anything more than a cover up anyway? With the US Congress now demanding more information too, the truth is likely to be out before long.
UPDATE: Google’s not alone in this. Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter have also published similar letters, almost as if there was some sort of co-ordinated face saving plan going on. Interestingly, Twitter isn’t even mentioned in the PRISM documents, but it does receive requests for confidential data under the US Patriot Act.