Thanks to newly released emails, the world now knows that Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt met with the NSA, showing a much cozier relationship than was previously admitted.
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The emails, obtained by Al Jazeera through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, show an exchange between NSA head General Keith Alexander and the top Google executives.
Schmidt and Brin were asked by Alexander to meet to discuss potential cybersecurity threats, part of a larger series of meetings that included many top tech executives.
One of the emails, sent on June 28, 2012 by Alexander, invited Schmidt to a “classified threat briefing” held at a “secure location” in San Jose, California on August 8, 2012.
The email states that Alexander met with tech executives earlier in the month, but now sought another meeting with “a small group of CEOs.”
“About six months ago, we began focusing on the security of mobility devices,” Alexander wrote in the email. “A group (primarily Google, Apple and Microsoft) recently came to agreement on a set of core security principles. When we reach this point in our projects we schedule a classified briefing for the CEOs of key companies to provide them a brief on the specific threats we believe can be mitigated and to seek their commitment for their organization to move ahead … Google’s participation in refinement, engineering and deployment of the solutions will be essential.
While some say that it is indeed essential for the government and private technology companies to share information, there are still risks.“There is some risk to user privacy and to user security from the way the vulnerability disclosure is done,” said Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
The classified briefing mentioned in Alexander’s email was part of a larger government initiative called the Enduring Security Framework (ESF), which remains shrouded in secrecy.
Alexander revealed that ESF was launched in 2009 with deputy secretaries of the Defense Department, Homeland Security and “18 US CEOs.”
The group was designed to “coordinate government/industry actions on important (generally classified) security issues that couldn’t be solved by individual actors alone.”
While Schmidt was unable to attend the August 2012 meeting, according to the emails, he apparently had a close relationship with Alexander.
“General Keith.. so great to see you.. !” Schmidt wrote. “I’m unlikely to be in California that week so I’m sorry I can’t attend (will be on the east coast). Would love to see you another time. Thank you !”
Brin also could not make the meeting, according to the emails, but Alexander personally thanked Brin for Google’s participation in the ESF.
“I see ESF’s work as critical to the nation’s progress against the threat in cyberspace and really appreciate Vint Cerf [Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist], Eric Grosse [vice president of security engineering] and Adrian Ludwig’s [lead engineer for Android security] contributions to these efforts during the past year,” Alexander wrote in an email sent on January 13, 2012.
A Google representative would not answer specific question about the relationship between Brin, Schmidt and Alexander or about the company’s work with the government.
“We work really hard to protect our users from cyberattacks, and we always talk to experts — including in the U.S. government — so we stay ahead of the game,” the representative said to Al Jazeera. “It’s why Sergey attended this NSA conference.”
For more detailed background information, see Al Jazeera’s exclusive coverage of the emails.
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