Why Shouldn’t Google Discuss Security With The NSA?

Emails between National Security Agency (NSA) director General Keith Alexander and Google’s Google’s Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt have been published by Al Jazeera, showing that the agency was working with the company two years ago.

The emails, says Al Jazeera, “suggest a far cozier working relationship between some tech firms and the US government than was implied by Silicon Valley brass after last year’s revelations about NSA spying.”

Last year, Google was one of several companies – and one of the most vociferous – to criticise the widespread surveillance activities of the NSA revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks.

“It’s really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that’s true,” executive chairman Eric Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal late last year.

“The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people’s privacy, it’s not OK.”

The emails now obtained by Al Jazeera under a Freedom of Information Act request concern briefings on mobile security threats. A number of other companies, including Apple Apple and Microsoft, were involved in the initiative, which aimed to develop a set of core security principles to protect the US from foreign spying.

English: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of G... English: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google Inc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In one email, written on January 1, 2012, General Alexander thanks Brin for Google’s participation in a group called the Enduring Security Framework (ESF), which he describes as “critical to the nation’s progress against the threat in cyberspace”, and invites him to a further meeting.

In a later message, sent on June 28, 2012, he invites Schmidt to a “classified threat briefing” in California covering mobility threats and security.

To Al Jazeera, this is evidence of an overly-cozy relationship between Google and the NSA. But hold on a minute. In response, Schmidt actually declines the invitation to the briefing on the grounds that he won’t be on the west coast that week.

I’m no great apologist for Google, but this is hardly evidence that the company was all that tight with the NSA. Given that the email exchanges took place months before the revelation that Google’s communications were being tapped – which the company claims it didn’t know – there’s no earthly reason why it shouldn’t take part in a national security initiative.

Brin also turns down his invitation and, tellingly, lets the general know that the email address that he’d used for the invitation was one Brin rarely checked. The two really don’t look like BFFs.

All this isn’t to say that Google didn’t have any knowledge of how its data was being intercepted before Snowden dropped his bombshell.

Last summer, the New York Times reported that “people briefed on the negotiations” had confirmed talks between Google and the government about ways of making information gathering easier.

And, this March, NSA general counsel Rajesh De claimed that all data gathered under the PRISM program came with the “full knowledge and assistance of any company from which information is obtained”.

So there may be evidence that Google’s been overly-cozy with the NSA: it’s just that this isn’t it.

Article source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2014/05/07/why-shouldnt-google-discuss-security-with-the-nsa/

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