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Google employees lash out at NSA over reports of cable tapping

An undated aerial handout photo shows the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Maryland. REUTERS/NSA/Handout
An undated aerial handout photo shows the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Maryland. REUTERS/NSA/Handout

(Note strong language in paragraphs 6 and 8)

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A pair of Google Inc employees involved with the internet company's security systems have publicly lashed out at the National Security Agency, with one of the employees accusing the organization of subverting the law by intercepting communications on cables linking Google's various data centers.

Nobody at the U.S. National Security Agency or the British intelligence agency "will ever stand before a judge and answer for this industrial-scale subversion of the judicial process," wrote Mike Hearn, an engineer at Google, on his personal Google+ page on Tuesday.

The comments follow a report in the Washington Post last week that the NSA had gained access to an overseas cable or switch that relayed Google and Yahoo Inc traffic through an unnamed telecommunications provider. The report is the latest revelation based on secret NSA documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Hearn, whose profile on the Google+ website lists him as a Zurich-based software engineer who has worked at Google since 2006, said in the post that he had worked on an "anti-hacking system" at Google for two years.

"We designed this system to keep criminals out. There's no ambiguity here," Hearn wrote. "Bypassing that system is illegal for a good reason," he said, noting that the judicial system of warrants and rules of evidence provided an effective and time-honored way to prevent crime while limiting excessive intrusions into privacy.

Hearn said he was issuing a "giant fuck you to the people who made these slides," referring to the illustrations in the leaked documents that depicted how the NSA was able to access the data.

The strident comments echo those last week by Brandon Downey, who identified himself as a network security engineer on his personal Google+ Web page.

"Even though we suspected this was happening, it still makes me terribly sad," Downey wrote. "The US has to be better than this," he said in a post that opened with "fuck these guys," referring to the NSA.

A person close to the company confirmed that Hearn and Downey are Google employees.

Both Hearn, who personally thanked Snowden in his post, and Downey said they were voicing their personal opinions and not speaking on behalf of Google. Google declined to comment on their postings.

Google, the world's No.1 internet search engine, said last week that it was "outraged" by the government's actions and called for urgent reform.

The internet company has faced its own criticism about intercepting data in the past, most notably when it acknowledged in 2010 that a fleet of cars it operates to map the world's streets had mistakenly collected passwords and other personal data from home consumers' wireless networks over a two year-period.

The newly disclosed NSA program, operated jointly with the United Kingdom's Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, amassed 181 million records in one recent 30-day span, according to one document reported by the Post. It could not be learned how much of that included material from U.S. residents, how the agency redacted data on them or how much of the information was retained.

An NSA spokesperson said in a statement last week that the suggestion in the Post article that the agency relies on a presidential order on foreign intelligence gathering to skirt domestic restrictions imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other laws "is not true."

"The assertion that we collect vast quantities of U.S. persons' data from this type of collection is also not true," the statement said. "NSA is a foreign intelligence agency. And we're focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets only."

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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