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Google exposes FBI secret letters. Image: YouTube.

Google’s Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security, Richard Salgadodisclosed eight national security letters from the FBI on December 13, 2016. The secret subpoenas are now available to the public as part of Google’s continuing effort to enforce transparency as both a company and industry policy in the tech sector.

USA’s Freedom Act serves as the fundamental constitutional pillar in which Google stands to publish the documents from the bureau, regardless of them being attached to an indefinite non-disclosure policy under the law.

The national security letters (NSLs) the FBI sent include requests for user information and activity records. Eight different Gmail accounts were of interest to the government agency, and officials across the country sent the notices to Google during a five-year period.

The FBI requested sensitive user data from Google

Richard Salgado photo.
Richard Salgado photo. Image: Slate.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation asked Google in eight different instances to turn over data from clients with Gmail accounts. In two of those cases, the requests implied the disclosure of “electronic communications transactional records.”

While Google did not make any comments on the nature of the national security letters, publishing them allowed the online community to draw their conclusions.

What these NSLs and their particular request attachments mean is the FBI wanted to look closer at some people’s emails and their content.

What information was in the emails is anyone’s guess, but the agency could have gone as far as getting the IP addresses of some of these people.

Publishing the letters is a win for Google and net neutrality

Google has put to good use the new abilities the Freedom Act grants it in the disclosure of NSLs that fail to fall under the antiquated parameters of Executive Order 12333.

This Executive Order is a resource used by the federal body to get access to any information they want for “national security porpuses.”

12333 does not require clearance from a judge, and it ties the recipient to a non-disclosure agreement of the notice, usually with no expiration date.

Now, the Freedom Act contemplates the gag orders that come with the subpoenas can, under some circumstances, be nullified. This, in turn, allows entities to publish them to keep up with transparency standards like Google did.

Net neutrality also benefits from such initiatives since they are in line with the concept of treating all data the same way regardless of its nature. Google could still have up to 499 NSLs archived waiting for release, but it is legally bound to keep quiet about it.

Will Donald Trump’s administration change things?

Google’s and Trump’s interests are quite entangled, and many have had difficulties foreseeing how their relationship will unravel over the next four years.

The tech giant has previously fought in court and won the right to tell organizations like Wikileaks when security agencies request their data from Google’s servers.

On the other hand, Trump has expressed his disdain for the current FBI leadership, in spite of recent accusations of collaboration with Russia to get him elected. Wikileaks is also in the mix.

However, Trump’s national security views and policies seem to point at a more restricted management of information, which in turn could translate to a strong opposition to transparency practices like the ones conducted by Google.

Regardless of Google’s neutral stance, Trump could ultimately mean trouble for tech companies and any entity his new FBI deems worthy of censorship, possibly using “national security” as well.

In the meantime, Google has vowed to “shed more light on the nature and scope of NSLs” and to “establish a more permanent home for these and additional materials from its Transparency Report.”

Source: Google