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PRISM: Google challenges surveillance data gag with first amendment filing

19 Jun 2013
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Google has filed a legal challenge to the US government demanding the right to reveal more information on the data requests it receives in the latest twist in the PRISM scandal.

Since news of PRISM broke earlier this month, tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have said they would like to reveal more about the requests they receive from the government, and what they provide, in order to prove to wary customers that they remain transparent businesses.

Google has now taken this further by filing a case against the US government, and specifically the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa Court) asking for this right.

"Google's reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media, and Google's users are concerned by the allegations," it said in the filing.

"Google must respond to such claims 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 search giant cited the first amendment on the US Constitution as the basis for its argument.

"In particular, Google seeks a declaratory judgment that Google has a right under the First Amendment to publish, and that no applicable law or regulation prohibits Google from publishing, 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."

Google gave some more insight into its rationale for the case in a post on its Google+ page, explaining that it believes a divide is needed between the type of data it can reveal.

"We have long pushed for transparency so users can better understand the extent to which governments request their data – and Google was the first company to release numbers for National Security Letters," it said.

"Lumping national security requests together with criminal requests – as some companies have been permitted to do – would be a backward step for our users."

The filing comes a day after president Obama said all the data collection undertaken by the US was "transparent" but that he was considering declassifying some elements of the process to provide more clarity.

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Dan Worth
About

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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