Google challenges US surveillance gagging order


Google has asked the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court to allow it to publish details of the number of data requests made by a secretive body, invoking the first amendment in a legal challenge that is aimed at easing concern among users following recent revelations regarding the activities of the National Security Agency.

The search engine giant was among a group of Silicon valley companies, including Facebook and Apple, named in reports which suggested that US intelligence had been given direct access to, or was tapping into, data held by some of the biggest players on the internet. In the petition filed with the Washington DC-based FISA court on Tuesday, Google claimed the reports in The Washington Post and The Guardian, which were based on leaked intelligence documents, were false and misleading.

To counter the impression that it might have been involved in widespread government spying, Google asked the court to hand down a “declaratory judgement” quashing a gag order and allowing it to reveal the number data requests made by the court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It also asked for the go-ahead to publish details about number of user accounts affected by those requests.

Google’s challenge, which is based on the free speech guarantee provided by the first amendment to the US Constitution, comes after a number of technology companies made disclosures about the number of data requests that they had received from government bodies.

However, the disclosures did not break down the number of FISA orders. Those data requests are at the centre of the Google petition.

“Lumping national security requests together with criminal requests — as some companies have been permitted to do — would be a backward step for our users,” a Google spokeswoman said last night.