Governments should codify rules on data collection, Google urges
Governments must codify regulations on silent data gathering so internet users around the world can regain confidence in the web, Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, has said.
Drummond also forcefully reiterated the company's position that it has not given the US National Security Agency (NSA) access to its servers, and that it had not known of the Prism programme before it was revealed last week.
He said the company would continue to push to be able to publish more information about secret requests for data. "But we don't write the laws," he said.
In a Q&A session for The Guardian, Drummond said: "It's high time that governments get together and decide some rules around [secret data gathering]. Remember that this is not just about the US government, but European and other governments too. It's really important that all of us give close scrutiny to any laws that give governments increased power to sift through user data."
He reiterated Google's position on Prism: "We're not in cahoots with the NSA and there is no government programme that Google participates in that allows the kind of access that the media originally reported."
A PowerPoint presentation from the NSA suggested that it had "direct" access to the systems of nine companies - Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Apple, Skype, PalTalk, YouTube, Facebook and Google. The companies have denied allowing such access. Google has said it did provide a secure file transfer system for data requested by the NSA under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) orders, which are secret.
Drummond said the search firm had finally managed this year to be allowed to say how many national security letters (used by US government agencies such as the FBI and CIA) it had received demanding data.
"We don't question that there are legitimate requests for data - in a criminal attack, for example, or a suspected terrorist attack. We simply believe there should be more transparency around the breadth of these requests." But he dodged questions on whether Google had been pushing to publish data about Fisa requests before the scandal broke.
Restating the position of many Silicon Valley companies, Drummond suggested the news of the extent of the surveillance scheme had surprised Google too. "We didn't know [Prism] existed," he said.
Google backed the work of Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission, to simplify privacy laws "in a way that both protects consumers online and stimulates economic growth", he said.
Questions posed to Drummond suggested some have lost trust in the company and are unsure whether business data could be seized. Drummond's response suggested that the company is keen to rebuild its reputation. "I'm really troubled if you've lost trust in us because of this idea that we're collaborating in a broad surveillance programme. We're not," he said to one user.