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Google & NSA Aligned on “No Expectation of Privacy” – Part 21 Google Spying Series

New evidence continues to contradict Google’s public representations of outrage over, and non-involvement in, NSA spying revealed by the Snowden leaks.

First, we learn for the first time from an excellent scoop at The Information, a subscription service, that Google co-founder and Head of Google X, Sergey Brin, has attended NSA meetings with other industry leaders, sometimes at NSA headquarters and at least once with the NSA Director. From another Amir Efrati scoop at The Information we also learned for the first time that not only does Google’s leadership meet with the NSA, but that Google’s and other companies’ top technology and security officials meet quarterly with the NSA in meetings often attended by the NSA’s Director.

We also learned from a Google Chairman Schmidt interview with The Guardian, information that is very different from Google’s previous press portrayals of Google knowing nothing about the NSA’s activities. Chairman Schmidt finally divulged that he has “the necessary clearances,” i.e. a Federal Top Secret Security clearance, as do other executives at Google. We also learned from him that “there’s a team of attorneys” at Google interacting with the NSA. 

Given that the Washington Post reported that Google formally enlisted the help of the NSA to determine how Chinese hackers gained unfettered access to Google’s computer system in 2009, it strains credulity when Google claims it is completely surprised that the NSA could know how to access Google’s computer system. 

Second, Google is the only company that is aggressively defending the NSA’s core legal/constitutional argument that Americans have “no expectation of privacy.”

We learned from Federal Judge Richard Leon’s decision ruling that the NSA’s mass dragnet of phone metadata, may ultimately be unconstitutional because it rests almost entirely on a pre-Internet, 1979 Supreme Court case, Smith v. Maryland, that ruled a person had “no expectation of privacy,” about information held by third parties, in this instance phone records.     

Tellingly, Google is relying on that same 1979 precedent that Americans have “no expectation of privacy,” to defend itself against two different pending wiretapping cases against Google.  In one, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last fall that wiretap law prohibits the type of transmission “interception” that Google StreetView cars’ did in secretly collecting personal information from unencrypted home WiFi networks. In the other, Federal District Court Judge Lucy Koh also ruled last fall that Google’s robo-scanning of Gmail exchanges to create personal advertising profiles could violate wiretap law.

Simply, Google is the only company strategically aligning itself publicly with the NSA’s aggressive spying authority assertion that Americans have “no expectation of privacy.” That’s because like the NSA’s boundary-pushing behavior to prevent terrorism, Google’s entire business model depends on Google obliterating any notion of privacy in order to be able to do most whatever it wants with anyone’s private information.   

Third, Google apparently opposes efforts by other countries to protect their citizens from NSA spying by requiring their citizens’ private data to stay in-country, in in-country clouds and data centers.

In response to Microsoft pledging to store EU citizens’ private data on servers located in the EU, Google immediately aligned itself with the NSA “no expectation of privacy” position. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s public response was “My understanding of U.S. law is if you have a U.S. server in another country, the U.S. law still allows that to be subject to the [U.S.] FISA rules,” per Bloomberg reporting.

Others in the industry strongly disagree with this Google-NSA “no expectation of privacy” position. Most notably, Verizon, in a recent blogpost, could not have been clearer in disagreeing with the Google interpretation of NSA-related law in other countries. “Our view on the matter is simple: the U.S. government cannot compel us to produce our customers’ data stored in data centers outside the U.S., and if it attempts to do so, we would challenge that attempt in court,” said Verizon’s General Counsel Randal Milch.

Fourth, Google also is aggressive in advancing the position that foreign Google customers also have “no expectation of privacy.” Google is challenging UK sovereignty in court by aggressively arguing that the UK does not have jurisdiction over information Google collects on Britons located in the UK.  Last month a UK court rejected Google’s extraordinary extra-territorial claim of sovereign immunity from people’s expectations of privacy.

Finally, there is recent incident involving a bug in Google’s Chrome browser that is especially emblematic of Google and the NSA’s shared stance that people have “no expectation of privacy.” Last month developer Tal Ater discovered a bug in Google’s Chrome browser that allows a malicious site to hijack a computer’s microphone and eavesdrop on conversations occurring near the computer without detection, even when the computer was not in use.

Tellingly, Google’s spokesperson responded that “this feature was designed with privacy and security in mind,” and the feature works as it was designed to work. This no problem with eavesdropping attitude comes just a week after revelations that the NSA was surreptitiously bugging computers via radio frequency technology and just a few months after revelations that the NSA had installed “backdoors” to standard encryption systems like those used by Google Chrome.

Apparently unauthorized eavesdropping by malicious sites or the NSA is not considered a big deal to Google, because people should have “no expectation of privacy.”

In sum, evidence continues to accumulate that contradicts Google’s PR protestations that is has nothing to do with the NSA or spying.

If Google really was against spying on people, it would disavow its corporate legal stance that people “have no expectation of privacy,” and operate its business as if people should have an expectation of privacy.   


Google Spying Series

Part 1: All the Blackmail-able Info that 'J. Edgar Google' Collects on You [7-17-08]

Part 2: Google's Interventional Targeting: Get into People's Heads? [5-19-09]

Part 3: Big Brother NSA: Google-NSA Through a Foreigners Eyes [3-9-10]

Part 4: What Else Does Google Secretly Track? [6-2-10]

Part 5: Google's Total Information Awareness - One-Page Graphic of Info Google Has [6-4-10]

Part 6: Google China License: What's the Rest of the Story? [7-9-10]

Part 7: Big Brother Inc. Implications of Google Getting No-Bid Spying Contract [8-25-10]

Part 8: Google's Deep Tracking Inspection [8-31-10]

Part 9: Google's Mandatory Location Profiling/Tracking [11-1-10]

Part 10: Google's Deep Aversion to Permission [3-10-11]

Part 11: Google's No Privacy by Design Business Model [3-17-11]

Part 12: Google's Rogue WiSpy Invasive Behavior Proliferates [6-17-11]

Part 13: Why Google is Big Brother Inc. - One-Page Graphic [6-10-13]

Part 14: Google Spy [7-8-13]

Part 15: Google Spy-Glass - Google's Big Rest of World Trust Problem [9-8-13]

Part 16: Top Questions for Google at Cato's NSA Surveillance Conference [10-8-13]

Part 17: Google's Faux Outrage Over NSA Spying - Part 17 Google Spying Series [11-1-13]

Part 18: Rebutting Mr. Ammori’s “Blame the NSA not Google” USA Today Op-ed [11-23-13]

Part 19: Are Google Glass’ Recordings Illegal Wiretapping Too? [12-9-13]

Part 20: Google’s Robots and Creeping Militarization - Daily Caller Op-ed [1-9-14]