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Google ordered to hand private customer data over to FBI investigators
From: Jeffrey Walton <noloader () gmail com>
Date: Sat, 1 Jun 2013 12:18:08 -0400
A US judge has ordered Google to comply with FBI secret demands for
customer data, despite earlier ruling the warrantless orders
District court judge Susan Illston this week rejected the internet
search giant's argument that so-called National Security Letters
(NSLs) violated its constitutional rights. As such it ordered Google
to hand over private information relating to US citizens to federal
It comes despite Illston earlier ruling the letters unconstitutional
in a separate case in March. In that case, brought by non-profit
advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the judge said that
such demands violated the right to free speech.
She also ruled against gagging clauses attached to the demands that
prevent the recipients of NSLs from disclosing the mere existence of
"The court concludes that the nondisclosure provision violates the
First Amendment … the government is therefore enjoined from issuing
NSLs … or from enforcing the nondisclosure provision in this or any
other case," Illston concluded in March.
The ruling followed a legal challenge brought by California
telecommunications company Credo, the Guardian understands. A 90-day
delay in the order coming into effect was put in place by the judge in
anticipation of an appeal by the government.
But hopes from civil liberty groups that the ruling would blow a hole
in the FBI's use of the secret demands for data have seemingly been
dashed by this week's development
The ruling in the Google case was first disclosed by the Associated
Press on Friday.
Illston's order omits any mention of Google. But the judge said "the
petitioner" was involved in a similar case filed on April 22 in New
York federal court.
Public records show that on that day, the federal government filed a
"petition to enforce National Security Letter" against Google after
the company declined to cooperate with government demands.
It was unclear from the judge's ruling what type of information the
government sought to obtain with the letters. It was also unclear whom
the government was targeting.
The judge put the Google ruling on hold until the 9th US Circuit Court
of Appeals can decide the matter. Until then, she said, the company
would have to comply with the letters unless it shows the FBI didn't
follow proper procedures in making its demands for customer data in
the 19 letters Google is challenging.
After receiving sworn statements from two top-ranking FBI officials,
the judge said she was satisfied that 17 of the 19 letters were issued
properly. She wanted more information on two other letters.
Google could appeal the decision. The company declined comment.
Kurt Opsah, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said:
"We are disappointed that the same judge who declared these letters
unconstitutional is now requiring compliance with them."
The letters, along with the recent seizure of reporters' phone records
by the Obama administration, have prompted complaints of government
overreach in regards to privacy violations in the name of national
Last year the FBI sent out more than 16,000 NSLs to companies relating
to the private data – mainly financial, internet or phone records – of
more than 7,000 Americans.
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- Google ordered to hand private customer data over to FBI investigators Jeffrey Walton (Jun 01)