As a company, Google has always worked towards protecting the privacy rights of its users from the prying eyes of various government branches. However, at times, it is cornered pretty badly by the judiciary and this is one such case. Google has been ordered by a district court judge in California to comply with FBI’s warrantless data requests, or as they call it- a National Security Letter (NSL). The provision of this request forbids Google from disclosing the fact that such a request was made in the first place. This translates to plain and simple bullying, and the way things move in this case will lay the foundation for future secret requests by the FBI.
Declan McCullagh at CNET points out the evil in NSLs, saying,
They allow FBI officials to send secret requests to Web and telecommunications companies requesting “name, address, length of service,” and other account information about users as long as it’s relevant to a national security investigation.
Not just that, the FBI does not require a court approval for making the request, and neither is the company holding the data allowed to disclose that such a request was made. This puts the company in a perfect catch-22 situation.
However, it will be wrong to accuse the judge Susan Illston (if that name sounds familiar to you, Illston is also the presiding judge in the Sony vs. George Hotz case) of passing a biased verdict in this case. Her argument in this case was that Google went after the premises of issuing an NSL; instead of preparing a defense against the 19 NSL that were the real problem.
Illston has invited Google to try the case again. She also ruled earlier this year that NSLs are unconstitutional, and this proves that she has been quite fair in her verdict. However, the disheartening news is that Illston is stepping down form the case this July, and will not be the one passing the final verdict.