Cyber Security

Google MUST hand over sensitive details for thousands of users to FBI – even without a warrant

By  Daily Mail Reporter and Associated Press

PUBLISHED: 09:06 EST, 1 June  2013 |  UPDATED: 09:06  EST, 1 June 2013

Google must comply with the FBI’s warrantless  demands for large amounts of customer data, a  federal judge has ruled.

In a ruling written May 20 and  obtained on  Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston ordered the company  to accede  to the FBI’s secret requests for information.

She rejected Google’s argument that the  government’s practice of issuing so-called national security letters to  telecommunication companies, Internet service providers and banks was  unconstitutional and unnecessary.

Popular: Hundreds of million of people use Google's gmail service. A judge has ruled that the company must hand over users' details to the FBI, even without a warrant 

Popular: Hundreds of million of people use Google’s  gmail service. A judge has ruled that the company must hand over users’ details  to the FBI, even without a warrant

Go-ahead: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies at a Senate Subcommittee.  

Go-ahead: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies at a Senate Subcommittee. Judge Susan Illston rejected Google’s complaint that the government’s so-called national security letters are unconstitutional and unnecessary

FBI counter-terrorism agents began issuing  the secret letters, which don’t require a judge’s approval, after Congress  passed the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001,  attacks.

The letters are used to collect unlimited  kinds of sensitive, private information, such as financial and phone records and  have prompted complaints of government privacy violations in the name of  national security.

The FBI made 16,511 national security letter  requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011, the latest data  available.

 

Many of Google’s services, including its  dominant search engine and the popular Gmail application, have become daily  habits for millions of people.

Judge Illston ordered Google to comply with  the FBI’s demands on May 20 but put her ruling on hold until the 9th U.S.  Circuit Court of Appeals could decide the matter.

Until then, the Mountain View, Calif.-based  company must comply with the letters unless it shows the FBI didn’t follow  proper procedures in making its demands for customer data in the 19 letters  Google is challenging, she said.

At risk? Google must now comply with the FBI's demands. The FBI made 16,511 national security letter requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011, the latest data available 

At risk? Google must now comply with the FBI’s demands.  The FBI made 16,511 national security letter requests for information regarding  7,201 people in 2011, the latest data available

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.

The decision from the San Francisco-based  Illston comes several months after she ruled in a separate case brought by the  Electronic Frontier Foundation over the letters.

She ruled in March that the FBI’s demand that  recipients refrain from telling anyone – including customers – that they had  received the letters was a violation of free speech rights.

Kurt Opsah, an attorney with the foundation,  said it could be many more months before the appeals court rules on the  constitutionality of the letters in the Google case.

‘We are disappointed that the same judge who  declared these letters unconstitutional is now requiring compliance with them,’  Opsah said on Friday.

Illston’s May 20 order omits any mention of  Google or that the proceedings have been closed to the public.

But the judge said ‘the petitioner’ was  involved in a similar case filed on April 22 in New York federal  court.

Discussion: FBI Executive Assistant Director Richard McFeely (left) speaks at the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit in Washington in May 

Discussion: FBI Executive Assistant Director Richard  McFeely (left) speaks at the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit in Washington in  May

Public records show that on that same day,  the federal government filed a ‘petition to enforce National Security Letter’  against Google after the company declined to cooperate with government  demands.

Google can still appeal Illston’s decision.  The company declined comment Friday.

In 2007, the Justice Department’s inspector  general found widespread violations in the FBI’s use of the letters, including  demands without proper authorization and information obtained in non-emergency  circumstances. The FBI has tightened oversight of the system

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