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Emails shed light on Google's work with NSA

Jaikumar Vijayan | May 7, 2014
Two sets of emails obtained by Al Jazeera America under a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that Google's cooperation with the National Security Agency may have been less coerced than the company has let on.

Google, like several other companies, has tried to distance itself from the NSA since the Edward Snowden leaks of classified NSA data. In public comments, Schmidt and other Google officials have portrayed any information sharing that might have occurred with the government as unwilling and legally obligated.

In an interview with CNN last fall, Schmidt blasted the NSA for violating the privacy of citizens after discovering the agency had allegedly tapped millions of data records directly from fiber optic cables linking its global data centers.

Google is also one of several tech companies to call on Congress for changes to NSA data collection activities and to ensure better privacy protections for the public.

Google's downplaying of any cooperation with the NSA is understandable considering the widespread concern caused by the Snowden leaks.

For instance, revelations that security vendor RSA had allegedly helped the NSA build a backdoor into one of its encryption products in exchange for $10 million have several damaged the company's reputation and credibility in the industry.

In Google's case, the concern is that customers of its cloud services will be scared away if the company is seen to play by an active role in the NSA's data collection activities. So far, Google, like other technology vendors, has insisted that the only circumstances under which is has provided customer data to the government is when it has been served with a court order or legally enforceable request.

Since the Snowden leaks, the company has actively campaigned for the right to be able to disclose specific details of government requests for data. The company has argued that greater transparency is needed to assuage customer concerns over its role in the NSA's data collection activities.


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