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Emails Between Google and NSA Suggest Ongoing Cooperation: Reports

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Google and other major tech companies have been meeting with the NSA about cybersecurity for years, emails obtained by Al Jazeera reveal. The emails between Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt and NSA Director General Keith Alexander were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and date from the summer of 2012.

The emails refer to ongoing co-operation and information sharing between the NSA and industry leaders, even while some of those same industry players have been publicly voicing concerns over NSA practices.

In November of 2013 reports began to surface that the NSA was accessing data travelling between data centers, and Google was amongst a chorus of objectors.

Over a year earlier, in the summer of 2012, an email from Alexander referred to “A group (primarily Google, Apple and Microsoft) recently came to agreement on a set of core security principles.” The same email referred to a collaborative effort to foil a BIOS attack originating in China which included Intel, AMD, HP, Dell and Microsoft.

That alleged threat was covered by 60 Minutes, but has met with skepticism, both that the threat was real and that the NSA’s intention was the defense of data networks. Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Nate Cardozo told Al Jazeera that the NSA may have been “looking for weaknesses in the exact same products they’re trying to secure.”

John Pike, director and founder of GlobalSecurity.org told VentureBeat: “The large telecom companies, including Internet companies, have an extremely intimate relationship with the NSA. How could it be otherwise?”

One of the emails from Alexander to Brin thanks him for participation in the Enduring Security Framework (ESF) program, which was launched in 2009 to partner the private sector with the federal government to improve cybersecurity.

Another email invites Schmidt to participate in a “decision-oriented” meeting on security and threats involving mobile devices.

“We work really hard to protect our users from cyberattacks, and we always talk to experts — including in the US government — so we stay ahead of the game,” Google said in a statement. “ It’s why Sergey attended this NSA conference.”

The emails contain no reference to the NSA accessing Google user records.

Al Jazeera is expecting its FOIA request to eventually yield dozens of additional emails.

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