Summary:

Google has sued to shine more light on the secret court that approves controversial national security letters — the petition also represents part of the ongoing PR strategy of tech companies caught up in a surveillance scandal.

google dc
photo: Google

Google has asked a secret Washington court to declare that it has a right under the First Amendment to disclose the number of security letters it receives under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Such letters, which the government uses to obtain phone and internet data about foreign nationals, are currently subject to an automatic gag order that forbids companies from disclosing their very existence.

On Tuesday, Google said it is filing a petition to the secret court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The petition, embedded below, notes that the search giant has already received information from the FBI to publish the number of so-called National Security Letters it receives — these are similar to FISA letters but cover US citizens.

The Google petition comes as a brouhaha continues to rage over the revelation of secret government programs, such as PRISM, that collect meta-data on phone and internet users.

The controversy has not only let to questions about the expansion of government surveillance under the Patriot Act, but has also led the various tech companies ensnared in the dragnet to claim vociferously that they are standing up for their users. The nature of this advocacy has led to tension between some of the companies — Google and Twitter, for example, have suggested that alleged victories claimed by Microsoft and Facebook against the government are misleading.

In its filing, Google also repeated its criticism of the Guardian and Washington Post for misleading reporting — and says that the disclosure of the FISA requests are necessary to help it refute false accusation leveled by the media.

“Google reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading requests in the media, and Google’s users are concerned by the allegations,” the company wrote, several times singling out the Guardian and the Post.

If Google’s petition is successful, the company’s semi-annual Transparency Report will include two new categories that reveal: the number of FISA requests received; the number of accounts each request covers.

Here’s the filing:

Google 1st Amendment FISA

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