Government's Redaction Fail Causes Exceptionally Grave Damage To Nation's Security

from the excellent-work,-except-for-that-one-thing dept

As we are all painfully aware, discussing even the most minute detail of the NSA’s data harvesting programs will cause “exceptionally grave damage to national security.” This is why the average citizen receives nothing but an overly-long mock apology from the agency instead of the documents they’ve requested — even when requesting their own data from the NSA.

Tech companies that have been forced to comply with the NSA’s requests are given the same strangulated song-and-dance. These companies feel their customers would be better served if they were informed how much of their data is going to the NSA and how often. But even discussing the collection efforts using aggregate data is considered to a threat to national security.

While the arguments seem completely ridiculous, the courts have sided with the government and prevented these companies from discussing demands for data. So much for the debate.

Fortunately for us, the government is imperfect. A recently released document posted by the Southern New York District Court is the model of redaction, blanking out every mention of the company’s name (along with some entire paragraphs). Perfect… except for one sentence on page 8 of the filing.

On June 6, 2013, the public’s already healthy interest in Google’s receipt of, and response to, national security legal process skyrocketed.

Oh, dear.

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it appears our future will be filled with explosive devices, hijacked planes and compromised infrastructure, all thanks to this screwup. The “alerted” terrorists will be quickly shifting from Gmail and GPlus to lesser-known services like Hotlook (or whatever Microsoft’s email service is called now) and Friendster. If you don’t believe me, just ask the people entrusted with securing this nation of ours.

In a June 5 letter to the court, the government argues that divulging the company’s name “would alert current and potential adversaries and targets,” possibly leading them to “change tactics and stop using the provider’s services altogether.”

That’s only one small part of the problem. The other problem with allowing an almost-unnamed tech company to discuss its dealings with surveillance agencies is the age-old “no exceptions” policy, one usually deployed at refund desks: “If I make an exception for you, then everyone is going to want the same thing.”

The government also argues that, if the court were to allow the company to acknowledge receipt of the national security letters, it would set a bad precedent and lead to many other companies being allowed to discuss NSLs.

The government is Wal-Mart, unsurprisingly.

Despite the fact that the company referred to is clearly “Google,” no one at Google is allowed to discuss this document or anything else along these lines, something Google’s legal teams points out is absurd in this very filing.

Since June 6, nearly every major Western publication has run stories (most of them inaccurate) regarding [a certain search giant’s] receipt of and compliance with national security process. Whereas the government’s request to redact [online behemoth’s] identity may have made sense on June 5, maintaining the redaction now serves only to protect a secret that everyone already knows.

Not only is the company formerly known as [redacted] not discussing this inadvertent bit of transparency, but neither is the FBI or the court where it was filed. Only the firm’s lawyer of record has broken the silence, and that only to “neither confirm nor deny” the veracity of the document.

If we’ve learned nothing else from this experience, it’s that the world is a slightly less safer place than it was last Friday before this document was made public — especially for whoever handled the redaction process.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: google

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Comments on “Government's Redaction Fail Causes Exceptionally Grave Damage To Nation's Security”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

Obviously knowing the name of the company in question would endanger national security. People knowing that the largest search engine in the world is insecure will lead to an exodus of users to services that ARE secure, more than likely based outside of the US, thus causing a ripple effect in the US economy. For the sake of the Almighty Dollar, we must censor!

out_of_the_blue says:

Oh, brave Google! Fighting for YOUR rights!

This looks like another calibrated “leak” to position Google, and it’s for free because gives away nothing that everyone didn’t already know.

Techdirt is a remarkable exception to the general distrust of mega-SPY-corporation Google.

Google Talks Transparency, But Hides Surveillance Stats

Google likes to trumpet transparency and free expression, especially when it concerns the internet, part of its commitment to the corporate motto, ?Don?t Be Evil.?

But despite the company?s recent online public policy posts espousing unfettered online expression, we aren?t buying it.

When you think surveillance or spying or snooping, think Google!

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Oh, brave Google! Fighting for YOUR rights!

Can you point to a single sentence written by Mike Masnick or any of the Techdirt staff that says that Google doesn’t spy or that we should trust Google implicitly?
I seem to recall more than once that we shouldn’t care about Google because of the simple solution: DON’T USE GOOGLE!

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

Application For Patent Application

Product/Service Name: Adverdaction

Executive Summary: In addition to being aesthetically unattractive, the traditional ‘black bars’ used to obfuscate documents consume massive amounts of ink – in many cases, up to six times more than the unredacted document. Advercation replaces these black bars – deserts of non-information – with targeted advertising relevant to the document requester.

Example: An FOIA request is received from the EFF. Unredacted document:

On 6 Jan 2009, 13,529 koala bears were mistaken for terrorists, and were inadvertently rendered inert by friendly fire.

Traditional redacted document:

On [REDACTED], 13,529 [REDACTED] were [REDACTED] for [REDACTED], and were [REDACTED] by [REDACTED].

Adverdacted document – modified exclusively for the EFF:

On [Viagra for lawyers!], 13,529 [Legal transcriptions by Vivian] were [Eat at Maury’s – by the courthouse!] for [Boodles Gin], and were [Scripto Pens] by [Ribbed for HER pleasure!].

Full Description: [REDACTED by Adverdaction!]

Contact Information: [Adverdaction is great!]

PopeRatzo (profile) says:

You don’t have to be a terrorist to decide to stop using any of Google’s services because of their cozy relationship to the federal surveillance state.

There are options, people. From startpage dot com to mail services that don’t roll over on their backs and pee themselves whenever the government gives them a stern look.

I don’t see why anyone would use any online service based in the United States, as long as they are leading the world in spying on people who have done nothing wrong.

cffrost says:

Re: Response to: PopeRatzo on Aug 26th, 2013 @ 3:25pm

Hi Pope, it’s nice too see a friendly pseudonym while I contend with net access solely via cell-phone — POS Slashdot is unusable on this POS phone.

(techdirt, thank you sincerely for your KISS-design and site-wide TLS support — a lot of sites could learn a lot from you (esp. /.). KISS + TLS = TLC for visitors.)

Back on topic: I’ve been thinking that switching to off-shore and/or privacy-committed/non-collaborating serviced may be considered as a somewhat “patriotic” act: If enough people (could be convinced to) do it, it could pressure corporate lawyers to (re)write legislation that brings business and government back into compliance with the Bill of Rights. As the “corporate person” is usually a greedy sociopath, perhaps shitting on the Constitution could be transformed into a money-loser.

Although what I’ve outlined above may sound unlikely/far-fetched, it’s an undertaking that any individual can pursue at no cost or risk.

The following two sites are both good resources for enabling oneself to opt-out of the molestation by many of our surveillance state’s disgusting tentacles:
EFF guide to “Surveillance Self-Defense”
(My apologies if awareness of these is already widespread on TD; I only recently became a frequent visitor.)

After needing an immediate replacement for g-mail, I found and signed up at, a free+paid, web+hosted email service hosted in Israel. In looking for a free, foreign, HTTPS web-mail service (excluding “Hushfail”), it the only one I could find. It seems alright to me so far…

gorehound (profile) says:

Ever wonder what might happen if every large Corporate Computer Giant Company Said NO to the Government.

They never will………..they will all run to their Gov Masters.And if they chose not to they would all probably be arrested.

If I was starting a Tech Type Business though I would find a more favorable Nation than my own which is turning into a Police State of Sorts.

no yards says:

“They never will………..they will all run to their Gov Masters.And if they chose not to they would all probably be arrested.”

You have that backwards. The government is run by their corporate masters. The illusion of government controlling anything is simply to supply plausible deniability to the corporations.

Since it’s pretty obvious that none of this data gathering and total silence is for the benefit of catching terrorists dumb enough to plan terror attacks using gmail, the only logical conclusion is that all this ‘wire tapping’ is for corporate control and benefit.

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