Google had been arguing before U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco that it should not have to comply with the 19 national security letters (NSLs) it had recently received because they seek to gain user information without a warrant.
According to CNet, Illston ruled in the FBI’s favor for all but two of the 19 NSLs after receiving classified affidavits from an FBI assistant director and another high ranking FBI official. She requested the agency provide additional information about the two remaining NSLs before she makes a decision on either document.
Illston hinted that Google should not give up the fight but, next time, be prepared to argue specific cases rather than the NSL issue in general, according to the CNet report.
The FBI does not currently require court approval to issue NSLs, but the documents can only be used in matters related to national security, not for ordinary criminal, civil, or administrative matters. NSLs are sent to Web and telecommunications companies electronically to request names, addresses, length of time the service has been used and other “identifying information about a subscriber,” Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security, said in a blog post.
While in most cases it is standard practice for Google to notify users about legal demands, the FBI can — and does in the lion’s share of cases —prohibit the company from disclosing it has received an NSL.
“The FBI has the authority to prohibit companies from talking about these requests,” Salgado said. “But we’ve been trying to find a way to provide more information about the NSLs we get — particularly as people have voiced concerns about the increase in their use since 9/11.”
To include data about NSLs in its most recent Transparency Report and still comply with the law, the technology giant was forced to be pretty vague with its numbers.
According to the report, each year — from 2009 to 2012 — Google was issued fewer than 3,000 NSLs in the U.S.
In 2009, 2011 and 2012, the report indicates the NSLs were linked to between 1,000 and 2,000 Google user accounts. In 2011, however, the letters were connected to between 2,000 and 3,000 accounts.
The report indicated government requests for Google’s users’ data continues to rise globally with the highest number of requests coming from the U.S.
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