back to article Google offers limited data on National Security Letters

Google has expanded its semiannual Transparency Report to include data about National Security Letters (NSLs) – albeit only a very small amount of data, given the strict secrecy that continues to surround the controversial documents. NSLs are letters written by US government agencies – usually the FBI, but occasionally such …


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  1. ratfox

    Ha! We can guess more info than they wanted to release!

    For each year, they say they received between 0 and 999 letters… But always about a nonzero number of users! So we know that they actually received between 1 and 999 letters.

    I bet the US government is going to freak out about the security implications of that slip.

  2. Chris Gray 1
    Black Helicopters

    You've blown it!

    You've blown it now, ratfox! Next year they will just tell us it was between 1-1000 NSL's. There goes our huge information source.

  3. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    "land of the free"


  4. Herby
    Black Helicopters

    Are National Security letters??

    The leaflets dropped by the black helicopters?

    Just asking!

  5. Neoc

    Are National Security Letters....

    ...the same as French Letters?

  6. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Google, Info Search or Intel Delivery Engine? .... Simple Virtual Machine or SMARTR Algorithm?

    What makes the use of NSLs so contentious is that the letters can be issued without court oversight and they come equipped with a gag order. The recipient of an NSL is forbidden under penalty of law from disclosing even the mere fact that the letter exists – not even to close friends or family.

    One assumes such secret activities requiring NSL gags to retain and maintain contentious order with closed orders are forwarded to recipients and accompanied by the sweetest of sticky earthly comforters in a large cheque, now morphed for the instant convenience and resultant benefits that a suitably energised and flowing currency delivers to stealthy joint operations, in its present virtual guise of an agreeably engaging electronic transfer of instantly available, always available credit to a private numbered account and fab fabless fund for growth.

    Or is there no penalty expected nor any jackpot reward to be freely given for the Stirling Engined Beauty of Stilling and HyperRadioProActive Silence which both effortlessly permits and unconditionally guarantees success in stealthy joint, mutually beneficial actions in Advanced IntelAIgent Missions with Master Pilot Programming in ProgramMING Projects ….. to be ongoing unhindered and sublimely supported? Methinks that would be considered, by any rational and logical thinking human being, as being a absolutely crazy and totally unacceptable oversight to be immediately remedied with fab fabless funding transfers lest it have catastrophic consequences on credit issues due to non-compliance.

    "Many governments may have legal processes similar to NSLs that allow them to obtain information for national security reasons," the FAQ states. "When Google receives these user data requests, we include them in the numbers we report biannually in our Transparency Report."

    What be and/or Who be and/or Where be Controls and Powers responsible for, and able and enabled in, ….. well, just for now and in the future, let us contemplate on them as being Quite Quiet and Divine and Sublime InterNetional Security Matters?

    Simple Virtual Machines with SMARTR Algorithms would surely know and like you to know too, do you think? Or would current ignorance be presently bliss until one be better prepared for Powers in the Virtual Machine Future Environment that would both control and empower IntelAIgently Designed Entities and Mankind with both Easy Grace and Spectacular IT Finesse? Although now that you know, be the Future no secret and therefore be it really quite pointless to try and hide it all from y'all.

    So, what do you want to do, with what you now all know, is the question left here with y'all to register with sensible answers and fabulous suggestions ..... brilliant solutions for future industry and intellectual engagement which banishes madness to history?

    1. jon 72

      Re: Google, Info Search or Intel Delivery Engine? .... Simple Virtual Machine or SMARTR Algorithm?

      Have you considered de-caf?

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        @jon 72

        You must be new around these parts....

      2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Ditching the De-Caf for the Attractions of Cocoa?

        Have you considered, jon 72, that a Baidu and/or a Yandex/a China or a Russia are into future generation derivatives of knowledge delivery for superlative overwhelming and mutually beneficial advantage in whatever global fields of currency interest that take their fancy?

        And let's not forget Far and Middle Eastern Nation States and the Indian Sub-Continent which all have riches aplenty to invest in Leading Technology Programs with Pioneering AIMethodologies ....... and which be also quite perfect for the likes of despots and troubled regimes.

        And please, no processed cocoa leaf speculations that wouldn't do justice to what has been done and can easily be done again and again for unparalleled gain, and exported to anywhere in a relative instant for virtual peanuts.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Google, Info Search or Intel Delivery Engine? .... Simple Virtual Machine or SMARTR Algorithm?

      All I saw was MING, and all I can think about now is Flash Gordon...

  7. Silverburn
    Black Helicopters

    semiannual Transparency Report

    You mean Annual semi-transparency Report, surely...?

  8. An0n C0w4rd

    "Security" through obscurity? Oh no, not again?

    "This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations"

    I'd love to know how knowing exact numbers of NSLs and users could in any way shape or form reveal information about ongoing investigations when you're dealing with the number of users Google has on their systems. If there were 59 NSLs in 2012 about 214 users, what does that tell you? Not much.

    If there was 1 NSL with 23 users then that may be a different matter entirely, as the single NSL DOES provide data. But assuming that on the typical year they get many more than single digits, I'm not sure how you could derive any information about ongoing investigations from more exact numbers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Security" through obscurity? Oh no, not again?

      It won't tell me or FBI much, but may very well give indications to those expecting to be or is under FBI (or whatever) investigations.

      You can find statistics in everything, and when you are able to see statistical relationships, you can start to draw conclusions.

      But that is highly theoretical, and probably very inefficient as you need a lot of confirmed data to evaluate.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Accurate and Transparent vs Precise and Detailed

    Well I suppose technically the information is both accurate and sort of 'transparent' - which is the way Google will spin it.

    But what we would prefer is 'detail' and 'precision' - which is a different thing altogether, and something not likely to happen, more's the pity.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We can find out who they are after

    ..if the whole world stopped using Google, and then we designate one person per year to be the 'user' and see how many users where involved in NSLs. It will be either 0 or 1-999 (i.e. 1)

    Admittedly this would take a long time (approx 18 million years) but would have the advantage of starving Google's ad revenues.

  11. Old Handle

    Good job, Google.

    Great way to boost confidence right there. But at least they managed to kiss the government's ass while they were at it, so I guess it wasn't a complete waste.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. dssf

    Here is how to find out the numbers, some day...

    Get on the board of a company. BEFORE the company is formed, and therefor, theoreticallly has had no known reason to be sent an NSL:

    First, ensure that prospective and new hires are squeaky clean and can pass a TWIC or at least get a passport, pass a bonding insurance background check, and has no criminal record that would trigger an NSL. It's discrimminatory, but, oh whelllll.

    Demand that everyday, when factual, the web site counter shows:

    -- Number of NSLs received today/yesterday: 0/0

    When there is a day one is received, just don't put a number. Skip that day.

    -- Number of NSLs received applying to citizens/non-citizens: 0/0

    When there is a day one is received, just don't put a number. Skip that day.

    -- Number of NSLs received applying to exec types/non-exec types: 0/0

    When there is a day one is received, just don't put a number. Skip that day. Could be trouble, tho, if there are only a few in that category, they vanish, and people start talking and confirming theories....

    -- Number of NSLs received today/yesterday/in advance of business formation, telling us to take down this site counter: >1/1/1

    When the day comes....

    Is there any preemptive law that bans this?

    Yeh, I know, don't give them any ideas. But, I already said as much around 2004, and I, have never been visited. Doesn't mean anyone read what I wrote, but just that I never got a visit. Doesn't mean that I've never been investigate, but so far, I've never been detained, cuffec, incarcerated.... Besides, all sorts of lawyers have been a bigger PITA than I ever have or ikely ever would be, and lawyer victories just make gov agencies refine their own tactics. Or, people might just end up in mysterious car crashes or falls or victims of rabid or vicioius animal attacks out the blue, hehehe...

    If you're going to open a coffee shop, better get legal papers that are on equal footing with an NSL: you want to take one of my machines to investigate one person? Bring a replacment of equal value and capability, or bring your own forensics gear, clone it, and go away. The machines would be wiped (a la Fedex style) clean after each and every customer has logged out. So, whoever your target is, you better hit him or her when s/he is ON the machine and hasn't yet logged off. DO all your work at the demarc, not inside the premises, if it is all 1s and 0s related. Business continuity and disruption insurance kicks in and you'll get a bill if you maliciouslly disrupt the business.

    This approach would also work for those who just want to tell companies like MS to F.O. -- especially when they try to telll a company it cannott disclose that it was issued a letter demanding as part of restitution a multi-year, perpetual through time on-time and regular upgrade/update to MS' OS, office suites, accounting, development, web, and other business tools, to avoid a $900,000 fine.

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