Judge orders Google to hand confidential user data over to FBI

Mountain View must comply with warrantless requests

crazy judge

A federal judge ordered Google to comply with warrantless FBI requests for confidential user data in a case that, until now, has been kept under wraps.

Google argued that the FBI's National Security Letters, electronic information requests that don't require approval from a judge, are illegal.

The search giant requested that 19 NSLs issued to it by the FBI be modified or thrown out, but U.S. District Judge Susan Illston wouldn't have it, CNET reported today.

Fortunately for Google and anyone using Google's services, that's not likely to be the end of the story.

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A dangerous precedent

NSLs can be sent in secret to request data from web and tech companies as long as the data somehow relates to a national security investigation. Those who receive Letters aren't even allowed to talk about them.

They've been around since before 2001's Patriot Act, but after that they were made even broader.

If Google is forced to comply, then any of its users' data could potentially be handed over to the government if requested. In fact, that's how things currently stand, but if Google wins, then laws regarding NSLs could potentially be altered.

Illston even suggested that Google might try again to dispute the NSL requests, but with different tactics.

Fighting the system

The judge told Google that its arguments this time may have been too broad, and that the company would do better to focus specifically on why the 19 FBI requests in question in this case are illegal.

She also reserved judgment on two of the 19 requests, saying she wanted more information from the government.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is engaged in a separate case in which it's reviewing the constitutionality of NSLs, and Illston said she's also hesitant to issue a ruling here that may interfere with that case.

Illston is also involved in that case, which was brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of an undisclosed telecommunications company.

  • Why's Google so concerned about privacy? The search company can give you plenty of reasons.