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Google, NSA ‘alliance’ has privacy advocate alarmed

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In the wake of Chinese-based cyber attacks against Google’s corporate infrastructure, search giant Google turned to the U.S. National Security Agency to help it combat security threats, according to a published report.

It’s a move that has privacy advocates itching for more information on the cooperation between the world’s largest aggregator of data and the U.S. government’s controversial spy agency.

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The original report, published Thursday in The Washington Post, contained no specific details on how the two organizations would be working together. Industry experts dismissed privacy concerns as overblown.

The deal will not involve the NSA accessing users’ search histories or Gmail accounts, the Post reported, citing unnamed sources with first-hand knowledge of the agreement.

The paper’s source characterized the agreement as an “alliance.”

That did not stop the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) from firing off a Freedom of Information Act request for communications between Google and the NSA “regarding Google’s failure to encrypt Gmail and cloud computing services,” they explained.

Despite the cyber security risk to the millions of Gmail users, Google did not enable complete encryption until after the hacker attack originating from China,” EPIC’s FOIA request claims. “… The timing of Google’s decision to enable traffic encryption suggests a connection between that decision and Google’s relationship with the NSA regarding the hacker attacks.”

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Their request seeks:

1. All records concerning an agreement or similar basis for collaboration, final or draft, between the NSA and Google regarding cyber security;

2. All records of communication between NSA and Google concerning Gmail, including but not limited to Google’s decision to fail to routinely encrypt Gmail messages prior to January 13, 2010; and

3. All records of communications regarding NSA’s role in Google’s decision regarding the failure to routinely deploy encryption for cloud-based computing service, such as Google Docs.

EPIC also sued the NSA (PDF link) in a Washington, D.C. district court on a separate but related matter, seeking to reveal key documents outlining cybersecurity policy.

The group’s concerns are indeed legitimate, as AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein revealed in 2006 that the NSA has the ability to vacuum up virtually every electronic communication on the Internet, and he had helped the agency monitor all of AT&T’s traffic.

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However, “fears that the Google will hand its servers over to the NSA are ‘completely unrealistic,’ stresses Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute,” Information Week reported. “The NSA is an effective partner for the private sector companies because it has the highest level of in-house cyber-security expertise, he says. Other agencies tend to rely more on outside contractors, raising the risk of disclosure of corporate secrets.”

Following the China-based cyber attacks in January, Google said it would no longer censor its Chinese search engine, apparently removing the state-mandated caps the very day of its announcement.

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The New York Times claimed that Google’s partnership with the NSA, as opposed to Homeland Security or another domestic agency, is based in part on a desire to avoid having its services classified as a “critical infrastructure” by the government.


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2020 Election

Trump creates a ‘minefield’ of legal problems for his own staff with plan for White House acceptance speech: report

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that he might deliver his Republican National Convention speech from the White House. But legal experts who spoke with Bloomberg warned that might not be a good idea.

The publication described the proposal as "a minefield of problems for the staff charged with putting such an event together."

The Hatch Act forbids the use of government property and employees for political activities. Although the president and vice president are exempted from the federal law, their staff at the White House could face repercussions.

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Breaking Banner

Controversial ‘Hookers for Jesus’ group to get more federal money as Bill Barr and Ivanka Trump announce anti-sex trafficking effort

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The Las Vegas-based group Hookers for Jesus has won a grant from the Justice Department less than a year after whistleblowers raised red flags about federal funds being awarded to the organization, Reuters reports.

The complaint from union officials says the group, which is run by a born-again Christian survivor of sex trafficking and operates a safe house for adult trafficking victims, got its grant due to political favoritism.

A previous Reuters report revealed that the group required residents of the safe house to go to church, complete Christian homework, and banned them from reading “secular magazines with articles, pictures, etc. that portray worldly views/advice on living, sex, clothing, makeup tips.” As Reuters points out, recipients of federal funds are not allowed to use the funds to promote religion.

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COVID-19

‘Taking taxpayers for a ride’: Moderna to charge $32-$37/dose for COVID-19 vaccine developed entirely with public funds

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"It ought to be the people's vaccine, not a new taxpayer burden."

Consumer advocates warned Wednesday that pharmaceutical giant Moderna is "taking taxpayers for a ride" after the company announced plans to charge between $32 and $37 per dose for a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed entirely with funds from the U.S. federal government.

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