Google Suits Up for FBI Privacy Battle

If there’s anyone that’s got the might, dollars and energy to take on the FBI, it’s Google. The Internet search giant, which is constantly battling concerns about privacy with regard to its own use of data, is challenging the FBI’s request for data from it.

The company has tried to take a more open stance on national security letters over the years through the issuance of its Transparency Report, which shows that government data requests are on the rise.  But are such requests constitutional?  That’s what the Silicon Valley giant is trying to argue.

The company filed a petition under seal in a U.S. District Court in California on March 29 just days after a federal judge struck down a set of laws allowing the FBI to issue so-called national security letters to banks, phone companies and other businesses demanding customer information. And now Google is challenging the application of the same rule to Internet data, which can include sensitive data including names, addresses and search activity

The FBI made 16,511 national security letter requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011, the latest data available. The FBI uses the letters to collect unlimited kinds of sensitive, private information like financial and phone records.

Google is trying to defend its users from intrusions of privacy.  Google Legal Director Richard Salgado wrote in a company blog that the “U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation can issue a National Security Letter (NSL) to obtain identifying information about a subscriber from telephone and Internet companies. The FBI has the authority to prohibit companies from talking about these requests. But we’ve been trying to find a way to provide more information about the NSLs we get—particularly as people have voiced concerns about the increase in their use since 9/11.”

Google has stated that upon receipt of law enforcement requests for data that it requires agencies use a search warrant if they’re seeking search query information or private content, like Gmail and documents, stored in a Google Account, which NSLs directly violate.  .