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

By on June 19, 2013, 5:00 PM

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.




User Comments: 10

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Nivagely Nivagely said:

Whole thing is idiotic anyway, Is it seriously only now people care about the information that can be seen?

Whole world is a shamble.

1 person liked this | MilwaukeeMike said:

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.

Am I missing something here? The 1st amendment says we are FREE to speak, not that we HAVE to speak just because we know something. Gag orders are handed out by judges every day across the country to juries and witnesses in trials, so how does Google plan to argue that gag orders are unconstitutional? There's probably more to it than that, but at the least it'll make Google look good for trying.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Am I missing something here? The 1st amendment says we are FREE to speak, not that we HAVE to speak just because we know something.
I can't argue with you on this one. I was actually thinking the same thing.

Wrinklie44 Wrinklie44 said:

Actually, Mike, we have "the freedom of speech", not just "to" speak. There is a difference and Google is correct. Do we HAVE to speak? Of course not, but I also agree that "gag orders" are a violation of the First Amendment. Besides, we already have enough interference with the First Amendment; how many flag draped coffins from our wars have you seen? Guess why.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Actually, Mike, we have "the freedom of speech", not just "to" speak. There is a difference and Google is correct. Do we HAVE to speak? Of course not, but I also agree that "gag orders" are a violation of the First Amendment. Besides, we already have enough interference with the First Amendment; how many flag draped coffins from our wars have you seen? Guess why.

Do you mean freedom of speech means we're also free NOT to speak? I thought that was part of the 'freedom' part. Freedom of speech means we are free to express our ideas (obviously not just speaking), but freedom implies choice, and choice implies NOT doing something. Google is making it sound like the 1st amendment dictates that they MUST disclose this information. That sounds to me like they don't have a choice.

Actually flag draped coffins does bring up a good example of just how free our speech is. The Westboro Baptist Church is free to protest at soldiers' funerals. They're free to say that our soldiers have died because God is punishing us for permitting homosexuality in the US. And yeah, there are limits. You can't yell 'bomb' at the airport, or 'fire' in a movie theater without getting in trouble, and there are actual crimes called libel and slander which aren't protected under free speech. I really don't have an issue with it though... anyway, it's the 2nd and 4th amendments that get all the news.

Guest said:

If Google is really serious about protecting its customer's privacy from government snooping they can start by simply refusing to sell that info to the government.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

If Google is really serious about protecting its customer's privacy from government snooping they can start by simply refusing to sell that info to the government.
The government has no need to pay for anything they can confiscate, especially if they feel it is theirs to begin with. I personally think it is wrong, but thats how they operate.

Wrinklie44 Wrinklie44 said:

Mike: "I honestly don't understand the difference." The only way I can answer that is that the framers of the Constitution were VERY careful about the language they used. Is in confusing today? Yes, because we've bastardized the English language. The Second Amendment is a good example because a modern Supreme Court made an interpretation of what they thought it means and "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state..." has fallen by the wayside. As far as the flag draped coffins, I was referring to our government policies; they have no right to tell the press what they can and can't do because that, too, is protected by the First Amendment. I also find the lack of outrage over our loss of the 4th and 5th Amendments. We use Machiavellian logic of the ends justifies the means to ignore the Constitution; a path to fascism.

Wrinklie44 Wrinklie44 said:

Mike: I just noticed the the email I got with your comment is different than the one on this forum. That's where the "don't understand" comment was. Speaking of don't understand....

MilwaukeeMike said:

Mike: I just noticed the the email I got with your comment is different than the one on this forum. That's where the "don't understand" comment was. Speaking of don't understand....

I thought about it more and I figured you meant that the difference was that we're free 'not' to speak. That's why I replaced the 'not understanding' line with the question that is there now.

You're right, we don't see many flag draped coffins, but I don't think that's because the govt is telling the press what to do, or because of any oppression. I think that's the press having an ounce of decency not to use photos of coffins to promote an anti-war agenda. It then becomes personal for the families of those soldiers. We can theorize on what the exact agenda would be, but I think it's a respect thing, not an oppressive govt thing.

I see your point though. I'm not trying to say your point is wrong because I can argue against the first example you thought of. I'd say the biggest recent news about a 1st amendment violation is the IRS scandal. When one of the most powerful govt agencies focuses an attack on a group because of opposing political beliefs that's a serious problem. Sure, Obama called it an outrage, but Lois Lerner (the most senior official, who's signature is on some of the questionable documents) still has her job.

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