Google Fights Government Gag Order

Google wants to talk. The Internet giant has filed a petition with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission to publish top-secret details of FISA requests -- the gagging of which, the company claims, violates its First Amendment right to freedom of speech. In a statement, Google explained, “Greater transparency is needed, so today we have petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow us to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately." Google has joined other tech companies in the last week in a mad PR effort to distance themselves from the NSA's Prism surveillance program.

The Washington Post reports:

In its petition, Google sought permission to publish information about the number of requests the surveillance court makes of the company and the number of user accounts that are affected. Google long has made regular reports with regard to other data demands from the U.S. government and other governments worldwide, but it has been forced to exclude requests from the surveillance court, which oversees an array of official monitoring efforts that target foreigners.

Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo in recent days have won federal government permission to include requests from the court as part of the overall number of data requests they receive from federal, state, and local officials. Google has rejected that approach as too imprecise to help users understand the scope of its cooperation with federal surveillance.

“Google’s users are concerned about the allegations. Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities,” it said.

In a statement also issued Tuesday, the company said, “Lumping national security requests together with criminal requests — as some companies have been permitted to do — would be a backward step for our users.”

Google isn't the first company invoking the Constitution in an effort to fight back against government requests for data. In 2008, Yahoo reportedly challenged this secret court on the basis that data requests violated their users' constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizures. The secret court forced Yahoo into participation in the PRISM program.


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