A US judge has ordered Google to comply with FBI demands for customer data, despite ruling previously that national security letters (NSLs) were unconstitutional.
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The NSLs are issued under the US Patriot Act to obtain citizens’ private data and slap a gagging order on recipients.
In March, judge Susan Illston ordered the US government to stop issuing NSLs because she said they were a breach of the constitution’s first amendment.
The ruling followed a legal challenge by telecommunications company Credo, according to the Guardian.
The ruling was made after a telecoms company that received an NSL sued the FBI for breach of its rights, and the FBI counter-sued the company.
The telecoms company was represented in the case by the Electronics Frontier Foundation (EFF), which said the court order exposed the constitutional shortcomings of the NSLs.
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But despite that ruling, Illston last week rejected Google’s argument that the NSLs violated its constitutional rights, and ordered it to hand over private information relating to US citizens to the FBI.
However, she placed a 90-day delay on the order coming into effect in anticipation of an appeal by the US government, according to the Guardian.
After receiving sworn statements from two top-ranking FBI officials, the judge was satisfied that 17 of the 19 letters were issued properly, but said she wanted more information on two other letters.
The March ruling was hailed as a victory for civil liberty groups, but this latest ruling has dashed hopes that the use of NSLs would be halted. The EFF said it was disappointed by the latest development.
The FBI issued more than 16,000 NSLs in 2012 to access the financial, internet and phone data of more than 7,000 US citizens.
The FBI has been criticised for using the letters far more extensively than in the limited counter-terrorism situations for which they are intended.