Google asks secret court permission to publish FISA numbers

Google’s open letter to U.S. Attorney General Holder and the Federal Bureau of Investigation chief Muller last week obviously produced some results, but the company in not satisfied.

As Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo, the company has obviously received permission to make public the number of U.S. government data requests they receive, but only in a range, and only if the number is aggregated to that of other types of law enforcement requests.

But, as you may already know, Google’s last Transparency Report released in March included the numerical range of National Security Letters (NSLs) they have received and the users / accounts they referred to, and Google doesn’t want to switch to releasing a range that would include all government data request, bundling up law enforcement requests, NSLs, and those received from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court courts.

So Google has now filed a motion with the U.S. FISC to allow them to publish aggregate information about FISA orders, saying that the company’s reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media, and that they must respond to such claims with more than generalities.

They are arguing that they have a right under the First Amendment to publish the total number of FISA request they receive, and the number of users or accounts encompassed within such requests.

“Google appreciates that you authorized the recent disclosure of general numbers for national security letters. There have been no adverse consequences arising from their publication, and in fact more companies are receiving your approval to do so as a result of Google’s initiative. Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security,” Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote in the letter to Holder and Muller, and the company argues that the same will happen if they are permitted to publish the number of FISA requests.

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