Proceedings in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are typically sealed. Google Inc. wants to change that.
Google announced today that the company and others, including Facebook, were filing renewed petitions in the secretive Washington-based court to expand the ability to share data about demands for consumer information. Google’s court filing asked the surveillance court to hold oral argument at a public hearing.
The request for arguments comes after several months of negotiations between Google and the U.S. Department of Justice and other agencies. The government agreed to release certain information on its surveillance requests, but Google said in today's motion that "the effort falls short of achieving transparency meaningful to the public and to Google's users."
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Google, according to its motion, wants to release the number of requests it receives from national security authorities and the number of users and accounts included in those requests. The company wants a declaratory judgment from the surveillance court saying Google has the right to publish the information under the First Amendment.
Following negotiations this summer, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced late last month that the government would start publishing the total number of requests made each year under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In today's motion, Google praised Clapper's decision "as a step in the right direction," but that "it fails to inform [the public] of the true extent of demands placed on Google by the government and in any event, such publication is not a replacement for Google's right to speak truthfully about the process it receives." Google said it wanted to release the information in light of inaccurate media reports about national security requests for its information.
Although proceedings before the surveillance court are secret, Google said the court's rules allowed for public arguments in certain circumstances. "Non-adversarial" matters must be closed under the court's rules, Google said, "suggesting, by negative implication, that a hearing in an adversarial matter shall be open."
Today’s motion was signed by Albert Gidari Jr., a partner at Perkins Coie and lead counsel for Google.
Facebook, represented by Carl Nichols of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, today also filed court papers in the foreign intelligence court seeking a declaratory judgment.
“The actions and statements of the U.S. government have not adequately addressed the concerns of people around the world about whether their information is safe and secure with Internet companies,” Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch wrote in a blog post today. “We believe there is more information that the public deserves to know, and that would help foster an informed debate about whether government security programs adequately balance privacy interests when attempting to keep the public safe.”