Google reveals how often the Feds ask for your personal info

Google is characterized in some many different ways. While some of us look to the Mountain View, Calif.-based company as our savior, others refer to it in terms like "Skynet" -- the computer and artificial intelligence system that runs the world in the Terminator movie series. That latter reputation is one Google tries hard to change; Transparency Reports are example.

Today, Google's Legal Director, Richard Salgado, announced that the company will be adding National Security Letters to its report. "When conducting national security investigations, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation can issue a National Security Letter (NSL) to obtain identifying information about a subscriber from telephone and Internet companies", stated Salgado.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) actually prohibits companies from making this information public, but Google worked with officials to allow its customers to learn more of what is going on behind-the-scenes. According to Salgado: "When conducting national security investigations, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation can issue a National Security Letter (NSL) to obtain identifying information about a subscriber from telephone and Internet companies".

Google has won this battle and gained the right to begin including data about NSLs in its Transparency Report. The data is now displayed on a new page dedicated to these inquiries. Exact numbers are not given, but the data is displayed in ranges, such as between 0 and 999 NSL's were received in 2012 -- not a big help, but better than no data at all. Salgado explains: "You'll notice that we're reporting numerical ranges rather than exact numbers. This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations".

Google attempts to walk a thin line here between easing the potential fear from privacy-minded users and following what the government allows them to reveal. This is one small step in the right direction.

Photo Credit: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

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