Google filed a motion with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Tuesday asking it to relax the gag orders that prevent the internet company from disclosing information about the number of requests for user data it receives from the U.S. government. The legal filing argues the company has a “right under the First Amendment” to disclose the number of requests for user data Google receives from law enforcement under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the total number of users involved in these requests.Google’s request was prompted by the increased attention on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs that came after leaked documents were published by the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. Those stories alleged that nine major technology companies including Google cooperated with the government and allowed the NSA to tap into their systems. Many of the tech companies named in the stories pushed back and denied they ever gave the government “direct access” to their servers.
“In light of the intense public interest generated by The Guardian’s and Post’s erroneous articles, and others that have followed them, Google seeks to increase its transparency with users and the public regarding its receipt of national security requests, if any,” Google’s legal filing says. “Google’s reputation and business has been harmed by the false of misleading reports in the media, and Google’s users are concerned by the allegations. Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities.”
After the stories were published, some of the companies named released information about the number of FISA requests they receive. However, they were required to combine the number of FISA requests with all other requests from law enforcement.
Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, and Twitter, which were all named in the stories, also banded together and sent open letters asking the government to allow them to release more details about the FISA requests they receive.
“We have long pushed for transparency so users can better understand the extent to which governments request their data–and Google was the first company to release numbers for National Security Letters,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “However, 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. Lumping national security requests together with criminal requests — as some companies have been permitted to do — would be a backward step for our users.”
In the motion, Google’s attorney said the data on FISA requests would be published in the company’s regular “Transparency Report.” The motion specified Google would not disclose any details about the government’s justification for the requests that could reveal the type of individual investigations.
Read the full legal filing below.