Google's motto has always been, "Don't be evil," and most of the world believes in that promise. Ever since Edward Snowden blew the lid off the extensive Internet data collection and spying efforts of the National Security Agency (NSA), Google has claimed that they never willingly participated in the surveillance program nor did it share its servers with the NSA.
Now, a series of emails exchanged between NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander and Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt have been revealed. The emails are from 2011 and 2012, before Snowden revealed the NSA's secrets in June 2013. In the emails, the Google executives sound friendly and cooperative. Alexander's emails hint at the importance of "Google's participation in refinement, engineering and deployment of solutions," to cyber threats.
Although the emails don't explicitly state that Google did, in fact, help the NSA with its surveillance and threat detection programs, they do seem to indicate that Google had a pretty good idea of the agency's questionable policies and actions. In fact, Alexander says that Google and several other tech companies received a classified briefing on the subject back in 2011.
"About six months ago, we began focusing on the security of mobility devices," Alexander wrote in one 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."
Google's Schmidt replied that although he wouldn't be able to attend the next meeting, he would talk to Alexander again in the near future.
"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 !"
Other emails from 2012 show that the relationship between the NSA and Google not only continued, but that it seemed to grow more open. In direct contrast to these private emails stands Schmidt's public condemnation of the NSA and all of its data collection and surveillance procedures. Schmidt has even gone so far as to hint that he believes some of the NSA's actions are illegal.
In spite of this new evidence, Google stands by its words and its promise that it never gave the NSA its full cooperation. Although Google wouldn't comment on just how deep the relationship was, it did say that it takes cyber threats seriously and therefore consults will all experts, regardless of their motives or reputations.
"We work really hard to protect our users from cyber attacks, and we always talk to experts - including in the U.S. government - so we stay ahead of the game," a Google representative said in a statement to Al Jazeera America, the site that uncovered the emails. "It's why Sergey attended this NSA conference."