Google says it 'has nothing to hide' about government snooping

Prism: What the NSA could know about you
Prism: What the NSA could know about you

Google on Tuesday urged the Obama administration to let it be more transparent about secret data requests from the government.

In an open letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Google (GOOG) requested the ability to make public the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests it receives. Under law, Google is barred from disclosing anything about those demands for its users' information.

"Google has nothing to hide," wrote Dave Drummond, Google's chief legal officer. "Transparency here will ... serve the public interest without harming national security."

A Justice Department spokeswoman said "The Department has received the letter from the Chief Legal Officer at Google. We are in the process of reviewing their request."

The search giant and six other tech companies were reported last week to be participants in a National Security Agency information-sharing program called "Prism." Though it's not completely clear how the Prism program worked, a former government intelligence contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton who leaked the documents told the Washington Post and Guardian that the NSA had access to data directly from the companies' servers.

Google, Facebook (FB), Yahoo (YHOO), Microsoft (MSFT), AOL (AOL), Apple (AAPL) and Paltalk have all denied providing the government direct access to their servers.

Related story: Google ... Facebook ... Paltalk?!

Drummond, in the open letter, said some transparency about the requests would help quell the public's belief that Google is giving the government full access to its users' personal information.

"Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users' data are simply untrue," Drummond wrote. "However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation."

Google currently publishes a transparency report of government-issued take-down requests for illegal material hosted on its servers, such as files that violate copyright laws. Google said it wants to add the number of FISA requests its receives and complies with as part of its transparency report.

"Google's numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made," Drummond said.

Both Microsoft and Facebook issued similar statements Tuesday, saying they would also like to provide a report of government requests and how they respond to them. The tech giants urged the government to allow tech companies to be more transparent about FISA requests.

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