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Google has filed a petition in court challenging the U.S. government's use of "national security letters." The letters, which do not require a warrant, require companies like Google to hand over user information deemed important to national security, and they include a gag order which prevents the recipient from talking about them.
Bloomberg's Karen Gullo reported, "Google Inc (GOOG)., operator of the world’s largest search engine, is challenging a demand by the U.S. government for private user information in a national security probe, according to a court filing. It 'appears' to be the first time a major communications company is pushing back after getting a so-called National Security Letter, said the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet privacy group. The challenge comes three weeks after a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that NSLs, which are issued without a warrant, are unconstitutional."
PCMag's Chloe Albanesius added, "The FBI can issue an NSL to a telecom company or bank to obtain identifying information about a subscriber, and the agency has the power to demand that the recipients of the letters remain silent. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), acting on behalf of an unnamed telecom company, sued over these NSLs in May 2011, arguing that they were unconstitutional. Last month, the court found that the gag order aspect of the NSLs violates the First Amendment, while the fact that the FBI can issue NSLs without court approval violates separation of powers."
Wired's Kim Zetter noted, "On March 14, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing NSLs and to cease enforcing the gag provision in cases where they have already been issued. Illston, however, stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal her ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The recent Google challenge has also been assigned to Judge Illston."
According to Ars Technica's Joe Mullin, "The FBI has sent out tens of thousands of 'national security letters' (NSLs) in the years following the 9/11 attacks, under expanded authority given to the bureau by the PATRIOT Act. The letters nearly always come with a 'gag order' preventing the recipient from even revealing the existence of the letter."