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Google challenges surveillance court on First Amendment grounds

The Google logo is seen on the top of its China headquarters building behind a road surveillance camera in Beijing January 26, 2010. REUTERS
The Google logo is seen on the top of its China headquarters building behind a road surveillance camera in Beijing January 26, 2010. REUTERS

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Google Inc asked the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday to allow it to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests it receives separately from criminal requests, on First Amendment grounds.

In its filing, Google requested the court to allow it to publish the aggregate number of national security requests it receives, including disclosures under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), claiming it as part of its First Amendment right to free speech.

"In light of the intense public interest generated by the Guardian's and Post's erroneous articles, and others that have followed them, Google seeks to increase its transparency with users and the public regarding its receipt of national security requests, if any," the Google filing said.

Google's move comes after other tech companies, including Microsoft Corp, Facebook Inc and Apple Inc released limited information about the number of surveillance requests they receive under an agreement they struck with the U.S. government last week.

Under that agreement, the companies were only allowed to disclose aggregate requests for data made by government agencies without showing the split between surveillance and criminal requests, and only for a six-month period.

The companies are scrambling to assert their independence after documents leaked to the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers suggested they had given the U.S. government "direct access" to their computers as part of a National Security Agency program called Prism.

The disclosures about Prism, and related revelations about broad-based collection of telephone records, have triggered widespread concern and congressional hearings about the scope and extent of the information-gathering.

Google said it asked the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation on June 11 to publish the aggregate number of national security requests, but said it was told such an act would be unlawful.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Gevirtz)

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