Google Challenges Surveillance Gag Order: Squares NSA Secrecy Against First Amendment

Tyler Durden's picture

It appears that unlike the president, whose rating is plunging in the aftermath of PRISM-gate, US corporations are not eager to double down on their privacy intrusive ways, and some are becoming increasingly concerned about what all the recent exposure may do to their bottom line. Such as Google, which earlier today became only the first company to challenge the long-standing gag order issued by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), arguing that the company has a First Amendment right to speak about information it is forced to give to the government. From Google: "Greater transparency is needed, so today we have petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow us to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately." And yes, GOOG, which once upon a time pretended its motto is "don't evil" and since transformed it to "be evil, just don't get caught", still refer to "constitutional rights" - how quaint.

From WaPo:

The legal filing, which cites the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, is the latest move by the California-based tech giant to protect its reputation in the aftermath of news reports about sweeping National Security Agency surveillance of Internet traffic.

Google, one of nine companies named in NSA documents as providing information to the top-secret PRISM program, has demanded that U.S. officials give it more leeway to describe the company’s relationship with the government. Google and the other companies involved have sought to reassure users that their privacy is being protected from unwarranted intrusions.

It is not as if Google is even requesting much: in the petition, filed with the FISA court in downtown Washington, Google is seeking permission to publish the total numbers of requests the court makes of the company and the numbers of user accounts they affect. The company long has made regular reports with regard to other data demands from the U.S. government and from other governments worldwide. Basically, this would at least put the FISA court's data demands on equal footing with all other judicial entities. But we can't have that now, can we, or else the terrorists win.

That information would not necessarily shed much light on PRISM, whose existence was first reported by The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper. But initiating a high-profile legal showdown may help Google’s efforts to portray itself as aggressively resisting government surveillance.

More importantly, it will now start an arms, or rather words race, between US corporations, in which the company that does not seek to emulate the "truth-telling" overtures of others, will be seen as the one most willing to handover user privacy to a secret organization without a fight. Which to internet companies means less users, less eyeballs, less clicking lifeblood. And most importantly, less top and bottom line.

All of the technology companies involved in PRISM, including Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, have struggled to respond to the revelations about NSA surveillance. Most have issued carefully word denials, saying that they do not permit wholesale data collection while acknowledging that they comply with legal government information requests.

So now the ball is in the administration's court which will have no choice but to reject the demand, or else find itself bombarded on all sides by enjoinders from all other internet companies. Which in turn will put Obama in an even more unpleasant place: against the companies.

Because if anything, at least until this point he could spin the ever-escalating scandal as one in which the US was collaborating with an very eager private sector. This will very soon no longer be the case.

And if the accelerating of PRISM-gate means further loss of revenues and profits for some of the biggest companies in the world as a result of Obama's resolute defense of his Dubya legacy inheritance which he has succeeded in putting on steroids, then we would most certainly open a long private sector, short Obama pair trade.