Today, Google has announced they will be including NSL requests from the FBI in their bi-annual transparency report for the first time ever.
The requests, which don’t need the approval of a judge or to follow any of the normal channels that warrant an information gathering operation at this scale, have been flooding into Google for years–but now the internet search firm has finally decided to do something about it and make them public.
“Starting [now], we’re now including data about NSLs in our Transparency Report. We’re thankful to U.S. government officials for working with us to provide greater insight into the use of NSLs.”
If you’re not up to code on all the hip government lingo these days, NSLs (National Security Letters) are confidential FBI letters which impose their will on private companies until they are essentially forced to release a consumer’s digital information. The FBI has responded to counter allegations of “thuggery” on their part by saying that although these new requests don’t require a court order, they are being overseen by the Department of Justice and each one has to go through a committee before being approved and sent through.
NSLs did not exist prior to the passing of The Patriot Act, and by all accounts seem to violate several of the rights laid out for us in just the first few amendments of the Constitution. On average, Google estimates they’ve received about 2,500-7,500 requests from the United States government per year with a sharp increase seen from 2006 until 2011, but these numbers have also been said to be intentionally vague in order to comply with the intentions of the federal government.
Even when all is said and done, this means that at least 10,000 people have been handed over since the program began, and what the FBI wants with 10,000 digital records on US citizens is still a mystery to us. Hopefully the moves that Google takes this year will start to answer some of the questions that our government is forcing its own public to ask.