Google has posted to its blog a direct repudiation of many of the press reports indicating a connection between Silicon Valley and the NSA:
"First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers," Google CEO Larry Page writes. "Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false."
Page continues: "The level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish."
Some online are taking this unequivocal language to mean that the reporting conducted by The Washington Post and The Guardian is wrong. But Google's vehemence doesn't rule out indirect access to its data. Nor is it impossible that instead of furnishing information to the government, Google simply is permitting the NSA to sit on the sidelines and observe. That's a pretty lawyerly distinction—but then again, the statement is co-signed by Google's top lawyer.
Here's the post in full:
Dear Google users—
You may be aware of press reports alleging that Internet companies have joined a secret U.S. government program called PRISM to give the National Security Agency direct access to our servers. As Google’s CEO and Chief Legal Officer, we wanted you to have the facts.
First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.
Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period. Until this week’s reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received—an order that appears to have required them to hand over millions of users’ call records. We were very surprised to learn that such broad orders exist. Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.
Finally, this episode confirms what we have long believed—there needs to be a more transparent approach. Google has worked hard, within the confines of the current laws, to be open about the data requests we receive. We post this information on our Transparency Report whenever possible. We were the first company to do this. And, of course, we understand that the U.S. and other governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety—including sometimes by using surveillance. But the level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish.
Posted by Larry Page, CEO and David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer