Clicking Through the Cloudy Relationship Between US Feds and Google
- By Antonia Gregory
- Sep 19, 2013
On September 5, 2013, Google asked a federal judge to dismiss a class action lawsuit against Google Gmail, stating electronically scanning the content of emails has been “ordinary business practices” since Gmail’s inception. The lawsuit, originally filed in May 2013, accuses Google of illegally opening and reading emails in violation of California's privacy laws and federal wiretapping statutes.
“This company reads, on a daily basis, every email that's submitted, and when I say read, I mean looking at every word to determine meaning,” Texas attorney Sean Rommel, who is co-counsel for plaintiffs suing Google, told the Associated Press. He further stated, “Data could be used for more than just targeting advertising, although the parts of the lawsuit discussing what more Google might be doing with private information is currently under seal.”
Turns out Google is an ECS provider. For those who aren’t familiar with those letters, ECS is the abbreviation for Enhanced Cybersecurity Services—a “voluntary information sharing program” operating from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and to thwart “unauthorized access, exploitation or data exfiltration.” DHS works with other federal cybersecurity organizations “to gain access to a broad range of sensitive and classified cyber threat information.”
One such federal cybersecurity organization likely involves the National Security Agency (NSA). In fact, Google reached out to the NSA in 2010 after allegedly hacked by China. In a 2010 article posted by Wired and sourcing The Washington Post, the China hack may have been a smokescreen used by Google to justify its relationship with NSA. Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg told Wired, “What they’ve told you is that this is about an investigation of a hack involving China. I think and have good reason to believe that there’s a lot more going on.”
Google’s relationship with NSA remains cloudy (no pun intended). A 2011 report by Consumer Watchdog discloses millions of dollars paid to Google through contracts by various U.S. government agencies, including NASA, the FCC and the Justice Department’s DEA. In 2012, Google received a $35 million contract to run the U.S. Department of Interior.
Ironically, The Washington Post reported September 7, 2013, which was two days after Google released its Motion to Dismiss the Gmail lawsuit that Google was “racing to encrypt the torrents information that flow among its data centers” against government snoops, which include the NSA. “Google’s encryption initiative…was accelerated in June as the tech giant struggled to guard its reputation as a reliable steward of user information amid controversy about the NSA’s PRISM program, first reported in The Washington Post and the Guardian [June, 2013]. PRISM obtains data from American technology companies, including Google, under various legal authorities.”
The Post further reported, “Communications between services—when an e-mail, for example, is sent from a user of Gmail to a user of Microsoft’s Outlook mail—are not generally encrypted, appearing to surveillance systems as what experts call ‘clear text.’”
Eric Grosse, vice president for security engineering at Google, told The Post that Google resists government surveillance. “This is just a point of personal honor,” Grosse said. “It will not happen here.”
Perhaps the great irony is the Internet giant that earns billions from information delivery doesn’t seem to understand the importance of timing and basic public relations.
Photo Credited to Annette Shaff