Don’t Be Evil,’ Meet ‘Spy on Everyone’: How the NSA Deal Could Kill Google

The company once known for its “don’t be evil” motto is now in bed with the spy agency known for the mass surveillance of American citizens.

The National Security Agency is widely understood to have the government’s biggest and smartest collection of geeks — the guys that are more skilled at network warfare than just about anyone on the planet. So, in a sense, it’s only natural that Google would turn to the NSA after the company was hit by an ultrasophisticated hack attack. After all, the military has basically done the same thing, putting the NSA in charge of its new “Cyber Command.” The Department of Homeland Security is leaning heavily on the NSA to secure .gov networks.

But there’s a problem. The NSA and its predecessors also have a long history of spying on huge numbers of people, both at home and abroad. During the Cold War, the agency worked with companies like Western Union to intercept and read millions of telegrams. During the war on terror years, the NSA teamed up with the telecommunications companies to eavesdrop on customers’ phone calls and internet traffic right from the telcos’ switching stations. And even after the agency pledged to clean up its act — and was given wide new latitude to spy on whom they liked – the NSA was still caught “overcollecting” on U.S. citizens. According to The New York Times, the agency even “tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant.”

All of which makes the NSA a particularly untrustworthy partner for a company that is almost wholly reliant on its customers’ trust and goodwill. We all know that Google automatically reads our Gmail and scans our Google Calendars and dives into our Google searches, all in an attempt to put the most relevant ads in front of us. But we’ve tolerated the automated intrusions, because Google’s products are so good, and we believed that the company was sincere in its “don’t be evil” mantra.

That’s a lot harder to swallow, when Google starts working cheek-to-jowl with the overcollectors. The company pinkie-swears that its agreement with the NSA won’t violate the company’s privacy policies or compromise user data. Those promises are a little hard to believe, given the NSA’s track record of getting private enterprises to cooperate, and Google’s willingness to take this first step.

Google may need help in fighting off these hacks. But turning to Ft. Meade could wind up permanently damaging the company’s image — and the foundation of its incredible success. Already, the Russian press are talking about Google’s decision to spy with NSA, for instance. Hackers might be able to compromise some of Google’s services, for a little while. The association with the NSA could permanently cripple the company. The telegram companies and the old-school telcos were virtually monopolies; customers had nowhere to turn, if they wanted private communications. Bing and Yahoo Mail are just a click away. (2.04.2010, Noah Shachtman)

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Google, NSA may team up to probe cyberattacks

Google is finalizing a deal that would let the US National Security Agency help it investigate a corporate espionage attack that may have originated in China, the nespaper reported on Thursday.

The aim of the investigation is to better defend Google, the world's largest Internet search company, and its users from future attacks, the Post said, citing anonymous sources with knowledge of the arrangement.

The sources said Google's alliance with the NSA, the world's most powerful electronic surveillance organization, would be aimed at letting the two sides share critical information without violating Google's policies or laws that protect the privacy of online communications.

Under the arrangement, the NSA would not be viewing user searches or e-mail accounts, the sources said. Google also would not be sharing proprietary data with the NSA, they said.

Google took the unusual step Jan. 12 of announcing that it had been hit by sophisticated cyberattacks in mid-December and that it was reviewing its business operations in China.

The Silicon Valley-based firm said the cyberattacks targeted Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists and an investigation found at least 20 other large companies had been targeted by cyberattacks.

China responded several days later with a defence of state control of the Internet. A top official said online pornography, fraud and rumours were a menace and that Internet media must help "guide public opinion" in China.

US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said on Tuesday the cyberattacks against Google were a wake-up call.

A partnership between the Internet search giant and the NSA touches on the sensitive issue of how to balance individual privacy and national security online.

Google approached the NSA in the aftermath of the attacks but reaching an agreement has taken weeks because of the sensitive nature of information-sharing between the two sides.

The focus of the cooperative venture would not be to determine who was behind the attacks, the Post quoted its sources as saying. That would be nearly impossible.

Instead the aim is to build a better defence of Google's networks, or what technicians call "information assurances," the Post quoted sources as saying. (India Times, 2.04.2010)

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