Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is showing that it is not afraid. On the one hand, it will stand up to tyrannical regimes and promote a free and open Internet for all of the country’s citizens, and on the other it will take on anyone that seeks to compromise user privacy. Granted, Google is not always successful at each of these – though it has been before the European Union in the past for its privacy practices, for example – Google cannot say it does not fight for rights of its users to enjoy the Internet freely and as securely as possible.
An example of that advocacy played out in a closed-door hearing in a California courtroom a couple of weeks ago, when Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) contested 19 National Security Letters submitted by the FBI on the grounds that the letters were unconstitutional. The decision by the judge in the case was handed down late Thursday, and though Google lost on most of the counts, it did at least open the door to potential future challenges – and success.
For those not aware, NSLs are classified requests by the federal government for certain user data on various websites, but the requests can be made without a warrant and without a judge’s approval as part of the government’s anti-terrorism intelligence efforts. Because much of the information requested by the government and the purpose of the request was classified and sensitive, the hearing was closed to public and media. The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, allowed 17 of the NSLs to be honored while requiring Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) to comply and reserved decision on two others until the government could provide more information about the requests.
On the bright side of the story, Illston did write in her decision that it seemed that the only reason she approved the letters was because the argument by Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) lawyers was too broad. She wrote that Google had only failed to address each of the letters and the specific arguments related to each letter, rather than trying to group every one of them under the broad umbrella of the due process and search-and-seizure clauses of the Fourth Amendment.
Where do Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and other tech companies go from here?