In a Google report released Tuesday, the tech giant revealed that thousands of inquiries have been made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the personal information of its users.
The document, entitled “Transparency Report: Shedding more light on National Security Letters,” was posted by Richard Salgado, the legal director of law enforcement and information security at Google.
“The FBI can seek the ‘name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records’ of a subscriber to a wire or electronic communications service” by filing a National Security Letter (NSL), the report said. Google has received as many as 4,000 NSLs since 2009, requesting information for as many as 10,000 accounts.
In a 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service, NSLs were described as “comparable to administrative subpoenas,” and could also be directed toward credit agencies, in addition to “communications providers [and] financial institutions.” The report said the applicable scenarios for filing NSLs were broadened under the Patriot Act.
According to the Google report, for information to be released, the NSL must be “relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”
However, the report said the FBI is not required to get court approval to issue an NSL. Additionally, the FBI has the power to prohibit Google from telling users that they received an NSL requesting their information. According to Google, the FBI claims this disclosure could result in “a danger to the national security of the United States, interference with a criminal, counterterrorism, or counterintelligence investigation, interference with diplomatic relations, or danger to the life or physical safety of any person.”
Despite these disclosure restrictions, Google promised to release rough data that would approximate the number of NSLs filed by the FBI in its annual report.
“Starting today, we’re now including data about NSLs in our Transparency Report,” the report said. “We’re thankful to U.S. government officials for working with us to provide greater insight into the use of NSLs.”