Google Can’t Shirk FBI’s Secret Demands for Data

     (CN) – A federal judge rejected Google’s bid to toss the FBI’s warrantless demands for user data, but left the door open for the search giant to try again.
     U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco ruled that Google must comply with so-called “national security letters,” or NSLs, which allow the FBI to force service providers to hand over phone, financial and other electronic records without the approval of a judge or grand jury, according to a CNET report.
     National security letters date back to the 1980s and were reinforced by the USA Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The FBI need only certify that the data sought “are relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”
     About 97 percent of the time, national security letters come with gag orders barring the recipients, such as Google, from talking about it. A 2007 investigation and report by the Office of the Inspector General found “serious misuse” of national security letters by the FBI.
     In March, Illston found “significant constitutional defects” with the government’s warrantless procedure for obtaining confidential user information. She ordered the government to stop issuing the letters and gag orders, but stayed her ruling pending appeal.
     A hearing in May was closed to the public, but CNET says it has learned that Illston ruled for the Justice Department after a pair of top FBI officials submitted classified affidavits.
     According to CNET: “It wasn’t a complete win for the Justice Department, however; Illston all but invited Google to try again, stressing that the company has only raised broad arguments, not ones ‘specific to the 19 NSLs at issue.’ She also reserved judgment on two of the 19 NSLs, saying she wanted the government to ‘provide further information’ prior to making a decision.”
     Though Illston’s rulings do not identify the petitioner, Bloomberg revealed this April that the challenger is Google.

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