Google has revealed the number of National Security Letters (NSL) that it has received in the last four years alone. The numbers are a general estimate of NSLs sent to Google by the government. The FBI sends NSLs to various entities, including businesses, internet service providers, credit card companies, and more. They demand that those entities deliver confidential information about their customers such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, purchase history, web history, and more. Anything is fair game as long as it pertains to the FBI’s investigation.
Google has received 0-999 NSLs each year for the past 4 years from the FBI. Google isn’t allowed to release the exact amount legally because the numbers may interfere with the FBI’s investigations, but it is able to provide a range. In 2009, the FBI asked Google to deliver confidential information from over 1000-1999 of its users. In 2010, it was asked to deliver info on 2000-2999 users, and in 2011 and 2012, it was asked to deliver info on 1000-1999 users each year.
National Security Letters can be issued by the FBI even without a court order, which makes them powerful and abusive. The Electronic Frontier Foundation stated, “Of all the dangerous government surveillance powers that were expanded by the USA Patriot Act, the National Security Letter… is one of the most frightening and invasive.” Many people have voiced their concerns over the NSLs and their extensive use.
Google has stated that whenever it receives a NSL, they go through a screening process before delivering the requested information. They scrutinize the NSL to make sure that they follow the law and Google’s policies. They try to narrow down requests, especially if they’re extremely broad. They try to notify users (if they are legally allowed to do so) so that the user can talk to a lawyer about the situation. Lastly, they require the government to issue a search warrant if private content, like emails and documents, are being demanded. Google plans on updating their NSL figures report annually.