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Google petitions FISA court for ability to disclose NSA user-data requests on First Amendment basis

Published June 18, 2013 3:54 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Search giant Google petitioned the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday for permission to separately report the number of requests it receives from the court, such as requests tied to the National Security Agency's Prism program, claiming protections from the First Amendment right to free speech.

The issue has been red-hot since former security contractor Edward Snowden revealed the existence of Prism to The Guardian earlier this month, including that Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, had given the NSA blanket access to phone records. The next day, The Guardian and Washington Post reported that a government PowerPoint presentation showed the NSA was "tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies," including Google.

Google has denied the accusation and openly called for the ability to disclose the number of national-security requests it receives from the court, known as FISA requests for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Current regulations only allow companies to disclose national security requests, which are classified as secret under federal law, by lumping them together with all other requests from local police and other agencies. Companies said they're also required to report the numbers in increments of 1,000.

"Greater transparency is needed," Google said in an emailed statement Tuesday, "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."

Google, which has published biannual "Transparency Reports" detailing the requests it receives for user data since 2010, believes that rounding those numbers and not disclosing the exact sources would hurt the credibility those reports have built.

"Lumping national security requests together with criminal requests" as some companies have been permitted to do â€" would be a backward step for our users," the company's statement read.

The court petition states that the company "seeks a declatory judgment that Google has a right under the First Amendment to publish ... two aggregate, unclassified numbers: (1) the total number of FISA requests it receives, if any; and (2) the total number of users or accounts encompassed within such requests."