Google to publish limited details on FBI data requests


Google is to start including data requests from the FBI in its semi-annual Transparency Report.

The data, requested through the FBI's National Security Letters (NSLs), would been shown in the report, albeit in a limited way.

NSLs are letters from US government agencies and departments to US ISPs and telcos that demand access to data on individuals. The information usually relates to phone or email logs, as well as financial information.

Google has updated its transparency policy so that it could share some details on the requests.

Writing in a blog post, Google's legal director of law enforcement and information security Richard Salgado said the company has "been trying to find a way to provide more information about the NSLs we get - particularly as people have voiced concerns about the increase in their use since 9/11.

"Starting today, we're now including data about NSLs in our Transparency Report. We're thankful to US government officials for working with us to provide greater insight into the use of NSLs."

The NSLs differ from other data requests as they don't require a court order, with FBI agents and officials permitted to use their own discretion in issuing them. However, the US Department of Justice oversees such NSLs through regular audits.

NSLs have been around since the 1970s, but since 9/11, the use of these has greatly expanded following the US PATRIOT Act being signed into law in 2001.

However, Google will only publish NSLs numbers once a year and only a numerical range rather than exact figures.

"This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations," Salgado added.

For every year from 2009 onward, with the exception of 2010, Google received anywhere from zero to 999 NSL requests. In 2010, it received between 1,000 and 1,999. Google did not offer any explanation as to any reason behind the increase that year.

Salgado said that the search giant would continue to publish NSL ranges on an annual basis.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.