Court hearing scheduled for next week in ongoing effort by privacy group to expose details of working relationship
March 13, 2012
The Department of Justice will ask a federal court to uphold the secrecy that surrounds the working relationship between Google and the National Security Agency in a hearing that is scheduled for next week.
Privacy watchdog group The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is returning to court once again in an effort to disclose more information regarding the widely publicized partnership between the spy agency and the search engine giant.
EPIC is suing to obtain documents that detail the relationship, and will appeal against the NSA’s so-called “Glomar” response, claiming it “could neither confirm nor deny” the existence of any information about its relations with Google, because “such a response would reveal information about NSA’s functions and activities.”
The NSA’s response stated that the agency “works with a broad range of commercial partners and research associations” in order to oversee the security of important information systems, but did not provide any further detail.
The issue rose to prominencein January 2010 following a highly sophisticated and targeted cyber attack on the corporate infrastructure of Google and some twenty other large US companies.
The attack was blamed on the Chinese government, prompting Google to embrace a collaboration with the federal agency in charge of global electronic surveillance.
Anonymous sources informed The Washington Post at the time that “the alliance is being designed to allow the two organizations to share critical information”, adding that the agreement will not allow the NSA access to users’ search details or e-mails.
The DOJ is backing NSA’s Glomar response, as The Legal Times reports:
DOJ’s legal team said that acknowledging whether NSA and Google formed a partnership from a cyber attack would illuminate whether the government “considered the alleged attack to be of consequence for critical U.S. government information systems.”
DOJ said media reports about the alleged Google partnership with NSA do not constitute official acknowledgement.
“If NSA determines that certain security vulnerabilities or malicious attacks pose a threat to U.S. government information systems, NSA may take action,” DOJ Civil Division lawyers wrote in a brief.
In its own opening brief, EPIC argues that records the NSA holds on the subject are not exempt from public disclosure under FOIA request.
“Communications from Google to the NSA do not implicate the agency’s functions and activities, and are therefore not exempt from disclosure.” the brief states.
“Further, some records responsive to EPIC’s FOIA Request concern NSA activities that may fall outside the scope of the agency’s authority. These records are not exempt from disclosure.” it continues.
EPIC believes that any burgeoning partnership between Google and the government spy force responsible for warrantless monitoring of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails in the wake of 9/11 raises significant privacy concerns.
“Google provides cloud-based services to consumers, not critical infrastructure services to the government,” EPIC attorney Marc Rotenberg said, noting that the group’s records request does not seek documents about NSA’s role to secure government computer networks.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will preside over the hearing, scheduled for March 20.
Google’s partnership with the intelligence network is not new. As we reported in late 2006, An ex-CIA agent Robert David Steele has claimed sources told him that CIA seed money helped get the company off the ground
Speaking to the Alex Jones Show, Steele elaborated on previous revelations by making it known that the CIA helped bankroll Google at its very inception. Steele named Google’s CIA point man as Dr. Rick Steinheiser, of the Office of Research and Development.
“I think Google took money from the CIA when it was poor and it was starting up and unfortunately our system right now floods money into spying and other illegal and largely unethical activities, and it doesn’t fund what I call the open source world,” said Steele, citing “trusted individuals” as his sources for the claim.
“They’ve been together for quite a while,” added Steele.
The NSA’s involvement with Google should be treated as highly suspect, given the agency’s track record and its blatant disregard for the Fourth Amendment.
A set of documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in June 2007 revealed that US telco AT&T allowed the NSA to set up a ‘secret room’ in its offices to monitor internet traffic.
The discovering prompted a lawyer for an AT&T engineer to allege that “within two weeks of taking office, the Bush administration was planning a comprehensive effort of spying on Americans” That is BEFORE 9/11, before the nation was embroiled in the freedom stripping exercise commonly known as the “war on terror” had even begun.
In late 2007, reports circulated that the NSA had increasing control over SSL, now called Transport Layer Security, the cryptographic protocol that provides secure communications on the internet for web browsing, e-mail, instant messaging, and other data transfers.
In 2008, Google denied that it had any role in the NSA’s “terrorist” surveillance program, after first refusing to say if they have provided users private data to the federal government under the warrantless wiretapping initiative.
However, it is clear where Google’s interests lie given that the company is supplying the software, hardware and tech support to US intelligence agencies in the process of creating a vast closed source database for global spy networks to share information.
The government supply arm of Google has also reportedly entered into a number of other contracts, details of which it says it cannot share.
Google’s approach to privacy also came under scrutiny more recently when it was discovered that the company was essentially vacuuming up WiFi network data as it gathered images for its Streetview program.
Google insisted that the practice was a mistake, even though information published in January 2010 revealed that the data collection program was a very deliberate effort to assemble as much information as possible about U.S. residential and business WiFi networks.