SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Google is asking the Obama administration for permission to disclose more details about the U.S. government's demands for emails and other information that people transmit online.
The request was made Tuesday in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Google is trying to debunk media reports that the company has created a way for the National Security Agency to gain access to large amounts of its users' online communications as part of a secret program code-named "PRISM."
The reports surfaced last week after a government contractor leaked confidential documents revealing the NSA has been tapping into the computers of Google Inc. and many other Internet services to retrieve information about foreigners living outside the U.S. The other companies linked to PRISM are: Yahoo Inc., Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc., AOL Inc., Paltalk, Google's YouTube and Microsoft's Skype.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence for the Obama administration, subsequently confirmed PRISM had been approved by a judge and is being conducted in accordance with U.S. law.
Even while acknowledging PRISM's existence, Clapper has insisted the scope of its surveillance has been more limited than depicted in published reports.
Google also portrayed itself as an unwitting participant in the program. Executives at the Mountain View, Calif., company insisted that it didn't know about PRISM until reading about it for the first time last week. Google insists it hasn't been handing over user data on a broad scale, something the company believes it can prove if it receives clearance to disclose the number of requests that have been submitted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
Federal law currently prohibits recipients of FISA requests from revealing information about them.
"Google's numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made," David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, wrote to Holder and Mueller. "Google has nothing to hide."
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