Google challenges U.S. gag order, citing First Amendment

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Google is petitioning the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow them to release information concerning data requests the court makes.

Citing the first amendment, Google argues that they have a constitutional right to speak about the information given to the government, despite the gag orders that accompany the requests, reports the Washington Post.

As tension between tech companies and the U.S. government grows over the PRISM data collection program, Google and other affected companies are hurrying to disclose the true nature and extent of their participation. From a consumer perspective, this process can be frustrating to watch, as companies continually revise their public statements based on new information that’s disclosed by the government.

This high-profile challenge to the standing gag order could help to paint Google in a better light, by illustrating their efforts to resist the surveillance program and providing some clarity about the requests, which Google says affect only a small number of users.

For several years, Google has published a transparency report detailing data requests and their sources, but FISA requests have naturally been excluded. With this petition, Google is seeking permission to publish details about FISA requests, including the number of requests and how many account are affected.

Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo recently were allowed by the federal government to include FISA requests in the total number of data requests they receive, but Google has said that this information is too imprecise to satisfy its users.

“Google’s users are concerned about the allegations. Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities,” said a Google spokesperson. “Lumping national security requests together with criminal requests — as some companies have been permitted to do — would be a backward step for our users.”

The Washington Post points out that even if Google wins the petition, it may not necessarily reveal more information about PRISM, as the program doesn’t require individual warrants from FISA when a search is made. This supposition is in line with what we’ve heard from Edward Snowden concerning the reach and access of NSA analysts using PRISM.

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