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.