The executive chairman of Google says the internet giant updated its encryption standards to make them unbreakable after learning the National Security Agency could spy on users.
Eric Schmidt rejected allegations made by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that the search giant and the National Security Agency had been working together.
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Schmidt said news of the widespread spying on citizens came as a shock to Google executives.
“Not only were we shocked at the attacks by the NSA ... on Google but as a result of those, we complained a great deal and we lobbied in Washington to get those behaviours stopped, which they have done,” Schmidt said in an interview with CBC’s The Exchange with Amanda Lang.
“We’ve also now encrypted our data at rest and in transit with techniques that no one believes the NSA can break during our lifetime.”
Online privacy and internet security are hot-button issues for consumers, who over the past few years, have been treated to a stream of stories exposing how little privacy they have. Governments are charged with protecting civil rights while simultaneously detecting homegrown terrorism.
In his new book When Google met WikiLeaks, Assange said Google had been selling search services to the NSA since 2002 and had collected personal data from millions of users.
"It is formally part of the defence industrial base," Assange told CBC Radio's Q last week. "Further, this close connection between Google's business activities, a business model which it can't get away from, and the U.S. government created an opportunity for the National Security Agency to sink its fangs into everything that Google was collecting."
Schmidt rejected Assange’s claims, saying Google changed its encryption protocols in 2013, when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that British intelligence officials were intercepting Google data.
Take it to court
Schmidt said Google will only reveal data if presented with a proper legal subpoena.
“Well in American law there is something called the Patriot Act so if there is a proper court of law request that we must honour, we do,” he said.
“We recently published a list of the number of requests we get and it's about 10,000 a year which is a minuscule number compared to the number of activities that are going on, so we do occasionally have to respond to those but we do that through a normal legal process and not through some backdoor surveillance process,” he said.
Schmidt admits Google is a fan of big data and sees it as a pathway to technological breakthroughs in future in fields such as medicine.
And while it makes money selling ads geared to its users, Google claims there is a separation between building its products and monetizing them.
“We have very strong rules about this but again it goes back to this principle of focusing on the user,” Schmidt said.
“We don't want to do things that users aren't going to be comfortable with. We have a long-standing statement, or rules of service, we're also highly regulated in these areas.”