The Internet giant says its free speech rights have been violated because it is legally prohibited from discussing even the vaguest details of government surveillance requests. In an effort to ease the rules on what information it can disclose about such requests, the company has petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

According to a report on, “Google points out that it can’t even confirm or deny that is has received FISA court orders.”

Google was identified as a cooperator along with other technology leaders in numerous reports about the government’s massive surveillance program called PRISM. Most if not all of the companies named have vehemently denied that they allow the government direct access to their servers.

Other companies that were named — Facebook, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft — worked out a deal with the government to disclose information requests, but Google backed out of negotiations because it would have had to group the FISA requests with other lawful inquiries. “Lumping national security requests together with criminal requests — as some companies have been permitted to do — would be a backward step for our users,” read a Google statement on the matter.

When the PRISM story first broke, Google CEO Larry Page and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond penned a blog post called, “What the … ?” “First,” they wrote, “we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a champion of Internet privacy, praised Google’s decision to fight for more transparency. The advocacy group currently gives the tech company four out of five stars in its “Who Has Your Back?” report on how Internet companies handle privacy and transparency with regard to government access to users’ information. Yahoo, by comparison, has only one star.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer.

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