FBI Spying on Google Customers Without Warrant

Wired’s Threat Level blog reports that Google has released information that shows the FBI is spying on as many as a thousand people through their Google accounts. But they can’t get any more specific than that because it might hurt national security for weird, vague, unstated reasons.

That’s why it is unlawful for any record-keeper to disclose it has received a so-called National Security Letter. But under a deal brokered with the President Barack Obama administration, Google on Tuesday published a “range” of times it received National Security Letters demanding it divulge account information to the authorities without warrants…

National Security Letters allow the government to get detailed information on Americans’ finances and communications without oversight from a judge. The FBI has issued hundreds of thousands of NSLs and has even been reprimanded for abusing them. The NSLs are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and businesses like Google to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more as long as the FBI says the information is “relevant” to an investigation.

In each year from 2009 to 2012, Google said it received “0-999″ National Security Letters.

But in its talks with the authorities over releasing figures, Google said national security was on the mind of the Obama administration.

“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. We plan to update these figures annually,” Richard Salgado, a Google legal director, wrote in a blog post.

They FBI has issued about 15,000 of these NSLs per year since the Patriot Act allowed them to do so without bothering to get a warrant from a judge, in rather flagrant violation of the 4th Amendment. And the FBI’s Inspector General has already revealed that they’ve abused that power. They’ve also abused their power to use sneak and peek warrants. In fact, it was revealed in late 2011 that from 2006 to 2009, they had only used such warrants in terrorism cases 15 times; they used them for drug cases 1618 times.

8 comments on this post.
  1. fifthdentist:

    I’d hazard a guess none of them involved spying on Cheney and the Shrub to try to catch them discussing strategy to avoid war crimes prosecution?

  2. tubi:

    I hope they’re not looking for people interested in sites with free scheiss porn.

  3. D. C. Sessions:

    What a surprise. It’s almost as though the FBI had a wish list of civil rights violations lying in a desk drawer, and on 12 September 2001 they pulled it out and sent it to Congress.

    Oh, wait …

  4. d.c.wilson:

    Google has really abandoned their “Don’t be evil” mission statement.

  5. Marcus Ranum:

    Google and Facebook and other “social media” sites all have mechanisms built in to facilitate servicing such requests. If you look on cryptome.org there are some of the price-sheets that companies like Verizon charge the US Gov’t for fulfilling requests for user data. Yes, they’re selling it. There are all kinds of deliberately constructed gray areas surrounding what constitutes data at rest versus data in motion (data at rest is not “tapped” it is “requested” or “subpoena’d” whereas data in motion is “intercepted” or “collected”)

    Why anyone puts any of their information on sites like that, is beyond me. Especially when it costs $100/year to own your own mail server (not that your hosting service wouldn’t turn over all your data in a second if asked nicely by the men in black)

  6. F [nucular nyandrothol]:

    In the opposite direction:
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130308/13380622263/9th-circuit-appeals-court-4th-amendment-applies-border-also-password-protected-files-shouldnt-arouse-suspicion.shtml

  7. peterh:

    The best, least complex method for clandestine communication today? A recently retired CIA director says pen and paper postal mail. (And the USPS needs your business.)

  8. Rip Steakface:

    Google has really abandoned their “Don’t be evil” mission statement.

    Looks to me like they’re being legally compelled to go along with the FBI, so that’s rather difficult.

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