Google and the NSA: Who’s Lying? What’s the Truth?

Okay, let’s compare the claims:

  • Edward Snowden’s Powerpoint slides show the NSA has full access to data at Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Skype, and others. The head of the NSA confirmed the Powerpoint slides are real. The NSA, the White House, Congress, and others are preparing to indict and prosecute Snowden for treason, espionage, etc. where they will press for life in prison or execution.
  • David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, stated Google is not collaborating with the NSA. “…we’re not in cahoots with the NSA and there’s is no government program that Google participates in that allows the kind of access that the media originally reported. (…) There is no free-for-all, no direct access, no indirect access, no back door, no drop box.” Drummond Q&A at The Guardian (June 19, 2013). (David Drummond graduated from Stanford law school and was formerly at Wilson Sonsini.)

This doesn’t add up. Either the NSA or Google is lying.

  • If Snowden was lying, the NSA would dismiss his claims as fraud.
  • Would Google lie? Would Drummond lie? What’s at risk? Google is pushing to build a cloud-based business environment: store your files in the Google cloud, send emails, hold meetings, create and edit documents and spreadsheets, and so on. The audience for this isn’t home users. Google wants companies to use this. It could replace Microsoft as the global standard for the corporate office tool. This is not merely billions. Cloud-based enterprise platforms will work for at least the next twenty years. We’re looking at perhaps several trillion dollars in revenue and stock value. Would Google and Drummond lie for a trillion dollars?

There’s another possibility where both Drummond and the NSA are telling the truth: The NSA hacked Google.

If the NSA hacked Google, they got access to everything. And Google can claim they never collaborated with the NSA.

Is this possible? Yes, because it already happened. In 2009, China hacked Google. Code-named “Project Aurora”, this led to Google withdrawing from the China market. Read more about Google, China, and Project Aurora.

So if China can hack Google, the NSA can also hack Google. This makes honest men out of the NSA, Edward Snowden, and David Drummond. Drummond can rightly claim that Google doesn’t cooperate with the NSA.

Update, July 9, 2013: There’s another solution to this puzzle. What if the NSA outsourced the spying to the British government? Thus the NSA doesn’t spy on Americans: the British do that. GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) is the UK’s NSA. See? All is legal. The NSA doesn’t spy on Americans. The UK doesn’t spy on Brits. They only spy on foreigners, who happen to be the citizens of each others’ countries. The NSA doesn’t need a warrant to do that. And Google can say it doesn’t collaborate with the NSA. But nobody mentioned the UK, did they?

Would Google mislead like this? For five years, Google insisted that it did not use people to evaluate and rank webpages. Google stated the ranking was done by algorithms and software. It turns out there was indeed a team of 10,000 people who ranked websites. But this was done by another company on behalf of Google. So Google was technically correct in saying that it didn’t do this. They just didn’t say it was done for them by another company.

Update, July 11, 2013: Microsoft first denied that the NSA had access via Prism. Today, they admitted it. They gave the NSA full access to Microsoft, Hotmail, and Skype. Who’s next? Google? See The Guardian article with +3,500 comments.

Update, August 9th, 2013: Lavabit, an email company, chose to shut down instead of complying with the NSA. The NSA tried to use secret court orders to force Lavabit to open its secure encrypted email to the NSA.  This explains the situation with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and literally every communications service in the USA: The NSA orders them to open their networks. This means David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer at Google, either knew or didn’t know, but in either case, Google complied with NSA orders and opened their network to the NSA. For details, see
Lavabit shutdown. See also the end of secure cloud in the USA.

Update, March 18th, 2014: So we finally know: Rajesh De, senior lawyer for the National Security Agency, stated that US technology companies (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc.) were fully aware of the surveillance agency’s widespread collection of data. Either David Drummond, chief legal officer for Google, was lying or Google lied to him.


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