In the wake of the leaks by Edward Snowden, many tech companies have been looking to distance themselves from the controversy by releasing how many requests they receive for information from the US government. The latest to take that step was Yahoo! yesterday which followed suit with the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Facebook.
Google is taking this battle to the next level as reported in the Washington Post
Google asked the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday to ease long-standing gag orders over data requests the court makes, arguing that the company has a constitutional right to speak about information it is forced to give the government.
The legal filing, which invokes the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, is the latest move by the California-based tech giant to protect its reputation in the aftermath of news reports about broad National Security Agency surveillance of Internet traffic.
Google has long told users of certain government information requests in transparency reports over the years but until this latest big brotherish revelation from the leak at the NSA, it seems as if no one really cared much. We stopped reporting on these updates because our readers clearly were unmoved by the information. Now, Google now wants to get ahead of the rest of the pack and move their efforts for transparency to another level.
In its petition, Google sought permission to publish information about how many government data requests the surveillance court approves and how many user accounts are affected. Google long has made regular reports with regard to other data demands from the U.S. government and other governments worldwide, but it has been forced to exclude requests from the surveillance court, which oversees an array of official monitoring efforts that target foreigners.
Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo in recent days have won federal government permission to include requests from the court as part of the overall number of data requests they receive from federal, state and local officials. Google has rejected that approach as too imprecise to help users understand the scope of its cooperation with federal surveillance.
Google is very good at playing the political game. They should be since the Obama administration is littered with current and former staffers coming from the tech giant in addition to its not so subtle backing of President Obama’s election efforts.
So what does this mean to the end user? Probably not much since most Internet users are happily using the Internet regardless of what is being collected. These games are being played at higher levels and are ultimately around stock prices and money which is what drives all corporate decisions. If I sound cynical I am since any altruistic moves by companies can always be traced to the current or potential economic impact on the company with almost no exceptions.
In the end this is all public posturing as this quote points out indirectly
Even overall numbers of surveillance court requests would offer insight “only at a very high level of abstraction,” said Stephen Vladeck, an American University law professor. “I don’t think we’ll learn anything other than how pervasive this practice has been. . . . It will only be a piece of a much larger puzzle.”
So where are you on the Internet and privacy? Have you changed your online habits since Snowden went public with the NSA’s practices? Have you kept a close eye on the impact of these actions? Since most of our readers are much more invested in the Internet space than the average citizen, if it’s not impacting you then the John Q. Public likely doesn’t have a clue or doesn’t care. That’s just the way it is.
We’ll keep an eye on the ‘big’ aspects of this story but let’s all face it that the truth is we are all being watched and that is unlikely to change. No matter how much companies jockey for PR positioning in the end they will likely need to cooperate with the government and we, the public, will probably never truly know to what degree.
In the meantime, we’ll give Google the lead in the “look at what we are doing to protect our
users stock price” race and just move on as if nothing has changed because it probably has not and likely will not.