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Google experimenting with anti-NSA encryption - report

Published time: July 17, 2013 22:58
Reuters / Andrew Kelly

Reuters / Andrew Kelly

Google is considering encrypting users’ data generated on its Google Drive as a protection from the US government's invasive meta data collection policies revealed just over a month ago, according to a new report.

The privacy protection initiative remains in the experimental phase, but could comfort customers shaken by the revelation that the National Security Agency has a policy of indiscriminately pulling millions of communication records. Google, according to the CNET report that first revealed the testing, already encrypts a small percentage of Google Drive files.

The current testing is reportedly examining whether it would be possible to encrypt data stored in the Google cloud service as well as Google Drive.

There are lots of things this could mean: if Google encrypts the files but retains the keys, it would mean that any government spying would be more visible within the company, since it would require the government requesting access to the keys before it could snoop on users,” wrote technology journalist Cory Doctorow.

On the other hand, it might mean that Google would encrypt its files in a way that even it can't encrypt it - called 'zero-knowledge encryption' - which would be much more robust against spying.”

The company, like others in Silicon Valley, has come under harsh public scrutiny for the perception that it not only participated in the secret government surveillance program PRISM, but profited off it as well.

An earlier report indicated that Verizon and AT&T each charge the NSA hundreds of dollars to install a single wiretap and, while Google’s fees were not disclosed, documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union showed that complete email transcripts were often sold for as little as $25.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizes the disclosures in decisions that are shielded from public oversight. Companies are forced to provide that data unless its encrypted. While Google has attempted to protect customers’ privacy in the past - including a longstanding battle against government National Security Letters - it may be possible for the NSA to step in and demand the search giant intercept encrypted messages.

This is an unanswered legal question,” Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, told CNET. “I think the answer would depend in part on whether decryption could be called a current capability of the provider - or requires a re-engineering of the service.”

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