National Security Letter Challenged by Google
Posted: April 8, 2013 by Alex Chan
A National Security Letter (NSL) is generally used by the FBI to gather information about people when conducting an investigation concerned with national security. The letter in general consists of two parts: the first part being the request about certain information and the second part is a non-disclosure agreement denying the entire existence of the letter itself. According to some unconfirmed data, starting from 9/11 and the signing of the Patriotic Act by President Bush, the FBI has sent an amazing 300,000 secret letters asking for private information. Your information.
In the beginning of March 2013, Google, one of the largest search engines in the world, publicly announced that it had received between 0 and 999 NSLs in the last four years, becoming the first Internet Corporation to reveal the secretive government requests. Even though it did not reveal the exact number of requests, many privacy activists have come through applauding the move, stating that some information is better than no information at all.
While other individuals have challenged NSLs before, Google is also the first company to challenge the infamous National Security Letters. On March 14, District Judge Susan Illston ordered that the National Security Letters were unconstitutional and urged the government to stop using them. On March 29 Google filed their administrative motion asking the Judge to "set aside legal process" or in simple words seal the following motion. The content of the motion is unknown; however rumors say Google is challenging both parts of the National Security Letter. The two cases are somewhat connected. The Government is said to have 90 days to appeal the Judge's ruling and decide the faith of future motions against the NSL.
Google on the other hand, is not the first person to challenge the NSL. So far it is known that 4 such claims have been filed. One, back in 2004, was filed by Nicholas Merrill. He was a small time businessman who owned an internet service provider. When the FBI sent him the NSL regarding the records of one of his users, he immediately took the matters to the courts. He was prohibited to speak about anything connected to the case. He was even named "John Doe". When wrote about his experience to the Washington Post, the Newspaper had to publish the article under an anonymous writer. 6 years later, in 2010 his identity was revealed to the general public.
After Merrill's motion in 2004, the US Congress changed the law on filing petitions. The Courts ruled that such provisions of secrecy were unconstitutional. Today, people can notify the FBI of their intention and it is up to the FBI to prove that the petition has to be a secret and why.
Hearing about these secret government letters has definitely stirred up the online community. It's clear that both individuals and corporations are fed up of this Government prying into their private lives. With the improvements in technology, marketing, and tracking, how much of our data is really safe? Thankfully, some companies are still out to protect us, even if it's just a little. Google is still evil.