A U.S. judge has ordered Google’s compliance with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) request for customer data. District court magistrate Susan Illston is forcing the Internet titan to fork over the information after rejecting their argument that these demands violate constitutional rights to privacy.
The FBI sent Google National Security Letters, controversial secret memos requesting account information including name, address and length of service from Web and telecommunication corporations. This data can be accessed without a warrant or court approval, leading some to question the constitutionality of the NSLs.
The NSLs are an extension of USA Patriot Act, passed by President Bush’s administration in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In a March case, Judge Illston ruled that NSLs were unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment’s right to free speech. She was concerned about the government’s motive for securing the record. In her ruling, she said NSLs were “too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted” and didn’t “serve the compelling need of national security.”
At that time, Michael Kieschnick, chief executive of Credo Mobile, commended the judge’s ruling, calling it “the most significant court victory for our constitutional rights since the dark day when George W Bush signed the Patriot Act.”
“This decision is notable for its clarity and depth,” he wrote in a statement. “From this day forward, the US government’s unconstitutional practice of using national security letters to obtain private information without court oversight and its denial of the first amendment rights of national security letter recipients have finally been stopped by our courts.”
In 2011, the FBI sent more than 16,000 NSLs demanding private data records from more than 7,000 Americans. More than 300,000 letters have been sent since 2000 with very few companies resisting or questioning the federal agency.
Critics have hounded the FBI’s NSL policies, citing massive constitutional violations. The Justice Department initiated an investigation in 2007 and found the FBI was sending demands without proper authorization and participating in other breaches of security.
Judge Illston’s ruling will not be enacted until after the 9th Circuit court rules on the case.
Several opponents of NSLs are disappointed with Illston’s decision. Kurt Opsah, an attorney with Electronic Frontier Foundation – a company that filed suit against the FBI – said he’s “disappointed that the same judge who declared these letters unconstitutional is now requiring compliance with them.”
Google has the right to appeal the ruling. The company has not issued a statement.