Google Petitions FISA Court: Search Giant Wants To Publish Data On National Security Letters

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An Apple computer is shown on Google's company campus in Mountain View, California on Feb. 9, 2010.

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) filed another petition with the U.S. government Monday that requests the ability to publish data on the amount of national security letters it receives from the government. This time, Google filed the petition with Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, the same court responsible for overseeing NSLs.

As a part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, departments like the NSA and FBI can use NSLs to force communication companies like Google to turn over user account data. In transparency reports, Google details how many of these requests it receives and how many it responds to.

However, FISC prevents Google from distinguishing between NSL requests and other requests that pertain to criminal investigations. FISC also requires that Google not reveal exact numbers, but report numbers in a range. Google can only say that it received between zero and 999 NSLs pertaining to between 1,000 and 1,999 user accounts.

Google wants to publish detailed statistics about these requests, arguing that doing so does not endanger national security. It is also requesting that the FISC makes the hearing public.

“It’s time for more transparency,” Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and information security at Google, and Pablo Chavez, Google’s director of public policy and government affairs, wrote on the official Google blog. Salgado and Chavez said they, along with “a number of other companies and trade associations,” will meet Monday with President Obama’s Intelligence and Communications Technologies group.

“We’ll reiterate the same message there: that the levels of secrecy that have built up around national security requests undermine the basic freedoms that are at the heart of a democratic society,” Salgado and Chavez said.

The petition to FISC echoes similar letters Google has sent to Congress and President Obama in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about secret NSA surveillance programs like PRISM and Xkeyscore and decryption programs such as Bullrun. Over the weekend, Google announced that it was accelerating its efforts to implement new encryption to keep government programs out with a legal authority.  

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