Time to publish the remaining NSA PowerPoint slides

The Los Angeles Times reports: Google is asking the Obama administration for permission to disclose more information about requests it gets from national intelligence agencies for its users’ emails and other online communications.

The technology giant made the request in a letter to Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on Tuesday.

Google is trying to counteract damaging media reports that the company allows the National Security Agency access to users’ online communications.

“Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue,” Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said in a blog post. “However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.”

Google and other technology companies came under scrutiny last week after a government contractor leaked confidential documents revealing that the NSA has been receiving information from Google and other services, including data from U.S. phone call records and online communications to and from foreign targets.

Google and other companies insist that they only give up user communications when required by law, and they dispute certain details in reports in the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers that detailed their roles in an NSA data collection program called PRISM.

Presentations, by their very nature, just as often portray goals as they do actualities and PowerPoint is perhaps the tool par excellence in conjuring up the simplistic outlines of a make-believe world.

It’s possible that Google is now engaged in some PR theatrics — making a request that it knows will be turned down — but my hunch is that they would in fact be vindicated by full disclosure of the facts.

And if that’s the case, then the publication of all 41 slides from the NSA PRISM PowerPoint presentation might not result in the revelation of secrets that would be particularly damaging to national security per se. The damage might derive as much from American citizens becoming aware of what the NSA would like to do as it does from awareness of what it is actually doing. In other words, a need for the continued secrecy of the contents of these slides, might be more important for protecting the reputation of the NSA rather than protecting the operations of the agency.

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