SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google must comply with the FBI’s demand for data on certain customers as part of a national security investigation, according to a ruling by a federal judge who earlier this year determined such government requests are unconstitutional.
The decision involves “National Security Letters,” thousands of which are sent yearly by the FBI to banks, telecommunication companies and other businesses. The letters, an outgrowth of the USA Patriot Act passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, are supposed to be used exclusively for national security purposes and are sent without judicial review. Recipients are barred from disclosing anything about them.
In March, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston sided with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a lawsuit brought on behalf of an unidentified telecommunications company, ruling the letters violate free speech rights. She said the government failed to show the letters and the blanket non-disclosure policy “serve the compelling need of national security” and the gag order creates “too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted.”
She put that ruling on hold while the government appeals to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the latest case, Illston sided with the FBI after Google contested the constitutionality and necessity of the letters but again put her ruling on hold until the 9th Circuit rules. After receiving sworn statements from two top-ranking FBI officials, Illston said she was satisfied that 17 of the 19 letters were issued properly. She wanted more information on two other letters.
It was unclear from the judge’s ruling what type of information the government sought to obtain with the letters. It was also unclear who the government was targeting.
Kurt Opsah, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said he was “disappointed that the same judge who declared these letters unconstitutional is now requiring compliance with them.”