Late last week, a US District Court Judge ruled that popular search engine giant, Google, would have to comply with the FBI’s demands for customer data to be released to them. Even though Google has claimed that the demands are unconstitutional, they will still be required to comply with the ruling until they have made an appeal and the outcome decided.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 rocked the country, Congress passed a Patriot Act that allowed counter-terrorism agents employed by the FBI to begin issuing letters that do not require a judge’s approval. These letters are used to collect a range of unlimited sensitive and private information, such as financial and phone records.
Google’s reluctance to comply with the letters could be linked to the Justice Department’s findings in 2007 – that numerous violations have occurred in the FBI’s use of the letters. These included demands without proper authorization and information being obtained in non-emergency situations. Since then, the FBI has significantly tightened their systems.
On May 20, US District Court Judge, Susan Illston, ruled that Google would have to comply with the FBI’s demands. She did, however, put this ruling on hold until the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could make a decision on the matter. In the meantime, the search engine will have to comply with the letters unless they can prove that the FBI has not followed the proper procedures.
The FBI has slapped Google with 19 of these letters so far; two top-ranking FBI officials have made sworn statements about the content, leading Illston to be satisfied that 17 of them have been properly issued. She has requested more information on the final 2. Whilst Google can still appeal Illston’s decision, they have refused to comment on the matter so far.