Google Challenges U.S. National Security Letter in Court

google-logo-ses-ny-2013Google is fighting a National Security Letter (NSL) issued by the U.S. government, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) acknowledging it is one of the first firms to do so.

Google took the unusual step last month of revealing, albeit in vague terms, the number of NSLs it received from the US government. At the time the company said it was working with the authorities to improve transparency around the subject, but according to court filings it is also fighting against handing over users’ data.

On March 29, Google filed a petition to set aside a legal process. Kevan Fornasero, a lawyer for Google said in the filing that petitions “filed under Section 3511 of Title 18 to set aside legal process issued under Section 2709 of Title 18 must be filed under seal because Section 2709 prohibits disclosure of the legal process.”

Fornasero’s reference to Section 2709 refers to the ability of the FBI to issue NSLs and force the handover of user data. According to the EFF, Google is one of the first communications companies to fight an NSL, but because Section 2709 doesn’t allow firms to disclose the legal process, few people can be certain that others haven’t tried to stand up to the U.S. government.

“The people who are in the best position to challenge the practice are people like Google,” said Matt Zimmerman, a lawyer for the EFF. “So far no one has really stood up for their users’ among large Internet service providers.”

Google has tried in recent years to provide users with some information on how it deals with government agencies’ requests for user data. If the firm can succeed in its fight against NSLs then it could open the floodgates for others to stand up against a law that some see to be nothing more than a snooper’s charter.

This article was originally published on the Inquirer.

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