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Google: 'We're not in cahoots with the NSA'

Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters file

David Drummond, senior vice president of Google, in 2011.

Google’s chief legal officer said Wednesday “we’re not in cahoots with the NSA” as the company stepped up its efforts to reassure customers that their gmail and Internet browsing history are safe from government prying.

"There is no free-for-all, no direct access, no indirect access, no back door, no drop box," said David Drummond, Google's top lawyer, in a live webchat with The Guardian newspaper. During the chat, Drummond forcefully denied media reports that an NSA surveillance program known as PRISM had given the agency “direct access” to the servers of major Internet companies. “There’s no government program that Google participates in that allows the kind of access that the media originally reported,” he said.

Drummond's comments come the day after the company filed suit in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court alleging that long-standing gag orders prohibiting Google from telling customers about data it turns over to the NSA violate the company’s First Amendment rights.

Company lawyers claimed in their filing that "Google's reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media" about its cooperation with the NSA.

Drummond said that Google only turns over user data to the government in response to "legitimate" requests relating to criminal investigations or suspected terror plots. "We review each of those requests and push back when the request is overly broad or doesn't follow the correct process," said Drummond.

During the webchat, some questioners said they had lost trust in Google over the revelations about the NSA’s data-collection program. "I will cease using Google Mail, and use non-tracked search tools like duckduckgo,” wrote one questioner. “I, like millions of other Americans have nothing to hide, but we value our basic privacy ... there is no excuse for a company as powerful as Google to not look out for the basic freedoms and liberty of American citizens." 

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” replied Drummond. "We do push back where we can, and do everything we can to protect our users' data. But we don't write the laws. Maybe one positive outcome of all this will be to have a deeper debate on this and come up with laws that are more transparent to the public."

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