Google Inc has enhanced the encryption technology for its flagship e-mail service in ways that will make it harder for the US National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept messages moving among the company’s worldwide data centers.
Among the most extraordinary disclosures in documents leaked by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden were reports that the NSA had secretly tapped into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world.
Google, whose executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, said in November that he was outraged over the practice, did not mention the NSA in Thursday’s announcement, except in a veiled reference to “last summer’s revelations.” The change affects more than 425 million users of Google’s Gmail service.
Yahoo has promised to make similar changes to its e-mail service by this spring.
Google and other technology companies have been outspoken about the US government’s spy programs. The companies are worried more people will reduce their online activities if they believe almost everything they do is being monitored by the government. A decline in Internet use could hurt the companies financially by giving them fewer opportunities to show online ads and sell other services.
“Your e-mail is important to you, and making sure it stays safe and always available is important to us,” Nicolas Lidzborski, Gmail’s security engineering lead, wrote in a blog post.
Lidzborski said that all Gmail messages a consumer sends or receives are now encrypted.
“This ensures that your messages are safe not only when they move between you and Gmail’s servers, but also as they move between Google’s data centers — something we made a top priority after last summer’s revelations,” Lidzborski wrote.
US President Barack Obama has promised to consider changing some of the surveillance programs that Snowden disclosed. However, the type of surveillance Google is trying to prevent by improving its encryption technology is not among the reforms Obama has discussed.
Google and other technology companies provide information to the NSA and other government agencies when they are required to by a court order.
“Google is making it tougher for the government to spy on its customers without going through Google,” said Chris Soghoian, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“There are still ways for NSA to spy on the bad guys,” Soghoian said.
“But this will prevent them from spying on 500 million people at once,” he added.