In what looks very much like a blow to that whole Constitutional thing about due process, a federal judge has ordered Google to release customer data to the FBI, despite the fact that the FBI has no warrant for the information.
The FBI made its request via 19 "National Security Letters." Here's CNET with a short explainer on what National Security Letters are:
NSLs are controversial because they allow FBI officials to send secret requests to Web and telecommunications companies requesting "name, address, length of service," and other account information about users as long as it's relevant to a national security investigation. No court approval is required, and disclosing the existence of the FBI's secret requests is not permitted.
At least, it wasn't permitted -- as the AP points out, the same federal judge who ruled against Google on May 20 ruled back in March that the gag order demand was unconstitutional. That was in response to a petition from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has long opposed NSLs. The government filed an appeal to the decision on May 6.
We don't get to see what evidence the FBI provided in the May 10 hearing, but Judge Susan Illston said that it was good enough for her to rule that 17 of the 19 letters were in accordance with the law. She said she needed more information before she could rule on the other two. Exactly what the FBI was looking for in its request or to which customers' accounts it wanted access is still unknown.
The FBI has been eager to ramp up its surveillance on social media networks, and up until now, companies like Facebook and Google went with it. According to EFF's attorney Matt Zimmerman, of the roughly 300,000 NSLs the government has issued since 2000, only "four or five" recipients have tried to challenge them.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.