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Daily Israel Report

Concern over Possible Google-NSA Cooperation

Internet Privacy Experts are alarmed by a possible relationship between Google and America's National Security Agency.
By Avi Yellin
First Publish: 3/8/2010, 10:59 PM / Last Update: 3/8/2010, 11:36 PM

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Following an attack on Google by Chinese hackers last December, the tech giant alarmed Internet privacy watchdogs by reportedly seeking help from America’s shadowy National Security Agency. The close and undefined connection between Google and the NSA, better known for tapping phones than patching security holes for private companies, has raised the ire of Internet privacy activists.

In the past years Google has amassed an extensive amount of sensitive data about its users, and ties to the world’s top cyber-surveillance agency have made experts demand Google make public the details of its alliance with the NSA. Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology, recently expressed his fears to Fox News, saying that his group is “very concerned about what information Google is sharing with the NSA.”

In addition to Nojeim’s group and a number of other privacy advocates, the prominent American Civil Liberties Union has recently become involved in the issue. The ACLU has started a letter-writing campaign to Google CEO Eric Schmidt highlighting what it calls the frightening ramifications of shacking up with the NSA, a military agency with limited government oversight.

The ACLU further explained that the NSA’s primary function is spying and that “in the last decade, it turned its surveillance efforts inward on the American people – in violation of the law and the Constitution.”

Despite the ACLU’s warning, little is known about the alleged NSA-Google arrangement. The Washington Post reported that the NSA would help Google shore up its defenses and coordinate aid from other United States security agencies. Citing unnamed sources, the Post said Google would not be sharing its users’ e-mails or search data.

While acknowledging that they are in the dark regarding what the NSA-Google relationship actually entails, the ACLU and other groups worry that the NSA could intercept private e-mails and therefore are trying to keep the connection above-board. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records about the NSA’s relationship with Google and is calling for both bodies to state the exact terms of any deal.

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the NSA has conducted warrantless wiretaps and e-mail intercepts on American citizens in order to track terrorists overseas. Google claimed in 2008 that it “was not part of the NSA’s Terrorist Surveillance Program,” but privacy advocates and watchdogs cannot help but be alarmed by recent news of its connection to the intelligence agency.

“The question we’re asking is, under what circumstances will NSA be allowed to gather data on Americans?” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC, told Fox. “And if NSA now has access to a lot of information that Google possesses about Americans, that becomes a real risk.”

Rotenberg added that he does not believe this to be the first such private arrangement between Google and the NSA and noted that Google is in a uniquely worrisome position, as it tracks and keeps long-lasting records of user search data and controls America’s third-largest e-mail system.