FBI does not need warrant to access data of Google users, says US judge

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A federal judge has ordered Google to release customer data to the FBI. This is interesting because the FBI has no warrant for the information, and typically warrants are required in the United States for law enforcement to access such data. The FBI made its request for data from Google via 19 “National Security Letters.” CNET provides us with a shortened explanation of what the letters are:

NSLs are controversial because they allow FBI officials to send secret requests to Web and telecommunications companies requesting “name, address, length of service,” and other account information about users as long as it’s relevant to a national security investigation. No court approval is required, and disclosing the existence of the FBI’s secret requests is not permitted.

This same federal judge ruled back in March that the gag order demand associated with NSLs is unconstitutional. This was in response to a petition from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has almost always opposed NSLs. The government did file an appeal to this decision back on May 6th, the results of which aren’t immediately known.

The evidence the FBI provided on the May 10th hearing isn’t available to the public. Judge Susan Illston said it was good enough for her to rule that 17 of the 19 letters were in accordance with the law. She also said that she needed more information before she could rule on the two remaining letters. This is exactly what the FBI had been looking for in its request or to which customers’ accounts it wanted access to is still unknown at this time.

The FBI has been working to ramp up its surveillance on social media networks, and up until now, Google — and other companies — went along with it. EFF’s attorney, Matt Zimmerman, said that of the 300,000 NSLs the government has issued since 2000, only 4-5 companies have tried to challenge them.

Do you agree with this judge? Should the FBI be able to access Google customer data without a warrant? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

[via AtlanticWire]

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6 comments

  1. AFPhy6

    Susan Illston – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Illston Cached

    Biography|
    Notable cases|
    Publications|
    References

    Susan Yvonne Illston (born 1948) is a San Francisco, California -based judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, which lies …
    Susan Illston : Ask Biography

    http://www.askbiography.com/bio/Susan_Illston.html

    Personal data; Date of birth: 1948: Place of birth: Tokyo, Japan: Judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California; Assumed office …

    – – – – – – –

    Susan Illston – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Illston \

    Susan Yvonne Illston (born 1948) is a San Francisco, California -based judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, which lies …

  2. Bub

    Is there any functional difference between a normally issued warrant and an NSL that has been appealed, reviewed by a judge, and upheld?

    Apart from the additional time and legal cost to get the latter one through, that is.

  3. cpusrvc

    Actually, they may never have needed a warrant. Under many privacy laws, once you share your information with another you have given up your privacy rights. If you give a note to your spouse that you will / did rob a bank, your privacy is protected and they cannot provide info to the police or courts. If you tell your cousin, no such privacy exists. Same thing if you tell your lawyer you didn’t pay your full taxes, he can’t tell, but if you tell your accountant, he can be forced to tell.

  4. JonE

    If the local constabulary want to search my home, car or tap my phone they have to have a valid reason and in addition they have to convince someone in the judicial branch that reason is valid and get written permission in the form or a warrant before they can enter my home, car, or tap my phone.

    If the FBI has a valid reason to gather information on a specific individual due to National Security reasons I have no problem with that. But, at some point they need to answer to someone and be able to convince that someone that they need to continue to gather information about that individual.

    But, to be able to gather information about any person they choose, for any reason they choose is abuse of their power.

    Are you kidding me; 300,000 NSL’s since 2000? That’s an average of 60+ NSL’s a day. J. Edgar would love this. Writing these NSL’s must be keeping someone busy. Makes me wonder whether the FBI still has field agents. And if so, just what are they doing?

    I’ve said for many years that we no longer live in a Republic. Many have shed their blood and fought against what this country has become. What a shame.