The EFF may be handing out gold stars to firms that publish their own transparency reports, but earning that recognition isn’t easy. Government data requests are often coupled with gag orders, barring firms from telling users that security agencies are thumbing through their data. Now Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook are arguing that these orders are a violation of the First Amendment.
Naturally, the government disagrees, pointing out that the nondisclosure requirements of its security requests have been applied tens of thousands of times without issues. It further argues that “hypothesizing scenarios in which the NSL [national security letter] statue might conceivably be applied unconstitutionally” doesn’t make it unconstitutional in actuality. It’s a secret investigation, the government says; there’s no First Amendment right to distribute information related to it.
The companies are appealing the case, and say they don’t want to put the security investigations under the public eye — they just want their users to have more detailed statistics about the the volume and type of information the government demands. Both Google and Yahoo have separately promised to continue to push the issue, each arguing that users have a right to know when their data is being examined.
[Shutterstock / Alkestida]