Google seeks assistance from NSA

By New York Times
February 5, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc.has turned to the National Security Agency for technical assistance to learn more about the computer network attackers who breached the company’s cybersecurity defenses last year, a person with direct knowledge of the agreement said yesterday.

The collaboration between the world’s largest search engine company and the federal agency in charge of global electronic surveillance raises both civil liberties issues and new questions about how much Google knew about the electronic thefts it underwent when it stated last month that it might end its business operations in China, where it said the attacks originated. The agreement was first reported by The Washington Post.

By turning to the NSA, which has no statutory authority to investigate domestic criminal acts, instead of the Department of Homeland Security, which does have such authority, Google is seeking to avoid having its search engine, e-mail, and other Web services regulated as part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure.’’

The US government has become concerned about the computer risks confronting energy and water distribution systems and financial and communications networks. Systems designated as critical infrastructure are increasingly being held to tighter regulatory standards.

The agreement will not permit the agency to have access to information belonging to Google users, but it still reopens long-standing questions about the role of the agency.

“Google and NSA are entering into a secret agreement that could impact the privacy of millions of users of Google’s products and services around the world,’’ said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C., policy group.

Yesterday, the organization filed a lawsuit against the NSA, calling for the release of information about the agency’s role as it was set out in a classified 2008 order issued by President George W. Bush dealing with cybersecurity and surveillance.