Google Asks FISA Court to Allow it to Publish Data on Government Requests

Saying that inaccurate media reports about the PRISM program have damaged the company’s reputation, Google has asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission to publish the number of requests the company gets for user data under various parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Citing the First Amendment, Google’s lawyers say that there is no law that prevents them from publishing such numbers.

Several companies, including Apple and Microsoft, recently have published such numbers, using ranges of 1,000 to show how many requests they get from the government for user data under FISA. Google, which published regular transparency reports on other kinds of law enforcement and government requests for user data, is seeking to have the same freedom to publish the FISA request data in general terms.

“In light of the intense public interest generated by The Guardian and Post’s erroneous articles, and others that have followed them, Google seeks to increase its transparency with users and the public regarding its receipt of national security requests, if any. On June 11, 2013, Google requested that the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation permit Google to publish the aggregate numbers of regarding the the receipt of national security requests, as further described below,” the Google motion says.

“Google’s reputation and business have been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media, and Google’s users are concerned by the allegations.”

In the motion, Google says that it would like to publish two separate numbers: the total number of national security requests it receives under FISA, in ranges of 1,000; and the total number of accounts or users affected by the requests, also in increments of 1,000. The company says that the ability to publish this data is vital to its reputation and business, as well as to the establishment of a debate on these issues.

“Google must respond to such claim with more than generalities. Moreover, these are matters of significant weight and importance, and transparency is critical to advancing public debate in a thoughtful and democratic manner,” the motion says.

The Google transparency report already includes information on how many National Security Letters it receives, as well as data on the number of requests for user data it gets from law enforcement agencies around the world. The data on NSLs is reported in ranges of 1,000, and for the past three years the number has been 0-999.

Image from Fickr photos of Robert Scoble.

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