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Federal judge rules Google must comply with national security letters

A judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] has ruled that Google Inc. [corporate website] must follow the FBI's [official website] warrantless requests for user information through national security letters (NSLs) [CRS backgrounder]. The ruling, which was issued on May 20, was released to the public on Friday. Under 18 USC § 2709 [text], the FBI can issue national security letters without court approval, requiring telecommunication companies to turn over information about their subscribers. Furthermore, the nondisclosure provision of the law prohibits the telecommunications companies from revealing anything pertaining to the national security letters, including notifying the individual for which information was sought. In this case, Google is challenging the validity of 19 NSLs. Judge Susan Illston ruled that Google must comply with the FBI requests unless NSLs are found unconstitutional. In March, Illston issued a ruling in a separate case finding that NSLs are unconstitutional, [JURIST report], but the order was stayed for 90 days pending a government appeal.

Google has faced criticism for numerous privacy issues recently. In April, six European countries commenced [JURIST report] legal action against Google regarding its privacy policies. Also in April, Google agreed to a $7 million settlement [JURIST report] for its collection of improper data during its Street View campaign. Last December an Italian appeals court overturned the conviction of three Google executives for violating Italian privacy laws [JURIST report] by posting a video on Google of a handicapped child being bullied. In June 2012 a Switzerland court found for Google [JURIST report] in a privacy suit involving its Street View service. Similarly, in March 2011 a Berlin court ruled [JURIST report] for Google, holding that the controversial Street View service is legal in Germany.

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