Judge orders Google to hand over data to the FBI
American corporation Google Inc. have been forced to surrender the details of certain users to the FBI as part of a national security investigation, a federal judge ruled on Friday.
US district court judge for the Northern District of California, Susan Illston, rejected Google’s argument that the demands were “unconstitutional”. She ruled the company must comply with the FBI’s warrantless request for the private information.
The decision involved 19 national security letters. These letters are similar to subpoenas and compel a company to hand over details such as phone numbers or email addresses that Google used to contact customers. The letters in question, in accordance with the Patriot Act, are secret, and do not require a judge’s approval.
Illston ruled in March that the letters violated free speech, since the FBI demanded that recipients refrain from telling anyone, including customers, that they had received these letters.
However, Illston sided with the FBI in the latest hearing, content that 17 of the 19 letters were issued properly. She requested further information before ruling on the two others.
Attorney Kurt Opsah, who defended the non-profit group Electronic Frontier Foundation after they brought forward a similar case in March, said of Friday’s hearing: “We are disappointed that the same judge who declared these letters unconstitutional is now requiring compliance with them.”
At the March ruling, she concluded the gag order preventing Google from informing its clients of the demands creates “too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted.”
Google may still appeal the case, but the California-based company must comply with the ruling unless it shows the FBI did not follow proper procedure in demanding customer data.
Neither the FBI nor Google have opted to comment on the matter.