redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Microsoft and Google are threatening to sue the US government after failing to convince the Justice Department to reveal more information about official requests for user data collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), various media outlets reported over the weekend.
According to Rory Carroll of The Guardian, the two tech giants announced the lawsuit on Friday in their latest attempt to disclose requests by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other federal agencies for information pertaining to foreign Internet users.
While noting the two companies are often rivals, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said in a statement both companies “remain concerned with the Government’s continued unwillingness to permit us to publish sufficient data” relating to FISA orders, Ars Technica writer Jon Brodkin said.
“We believe we have a clear right under the US Constitution to share more information with the public. The purpose of our litigation is to uphold this right so that we can disclose additional data,” Smith added.
He explained Microsoft and Google had been in negotiations with the Justice Department to extend the government’s deadline to respond to the suits, but that those negotiations “ended in failure” despite “the good faith and earnest efforts by the capable Government lawyers with whom we negotiated.”
Google had originally filed the motion to claim the right to publish FISA information under the First Amendment, according to CNET’s Seth Rosenblatt. A 2008 amendment to section 702 of the legislation allowed the government to enforce gag orders against even the number of requests issued under the act, and companies served with the requests have been prohibited from publicly acknowledging they had received them, he added.
Rosenblatt added he was told by an anonymous source that “Google and Microsoft will be amending their petitions to more closely reflect the details of an open letter signed by most major tech companies and sent after the initial FISA court filing from the Center for Democracy and Transparency to the heads of the US government and intelligence agencies.”
National Intelligence Director James Clapper told Reuters Thursday the government intended to reveal aggregate numbers of the FISA orders issued to tech and telecommunications companies. However, the NSA and its intelligence partners have not agreed to allow individual companies to disclose that information on their own.
“FISA and national security letters are an important part of our effort to keep the nation and its citizens safe, and disclosing more detailed information about how they are used and to whom they are directed can obviously help our enemies avoid detection,” Clapper added in a statement, according to the news agency’s Alina Selyukh.
According to Selyukh, companies such as Google and Microsoft have been fighting for greater transparency of US government information requests in the wake of recent surveillance-related disclosures by former spy contractor Edward Snowden. On Friday, the Justice Department was scheduled to file a response to the two companies in a secret surveillance court. Those filings are classified, Reuters said, and department representatives declined to comment on the matter.