By Joseph Menn
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 9 Some of the world's
biggest Internet companies on Monday increased efforts to
disclose more about their forced cooperation with U.S. spy
agencies, and Google Inc asked a court to hold what would be
unprecedented public oral arguments.
Google Inc, Facebook Inc and others met with
a panel established by the White House to review the sweeping
domestic surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden, a former
contractor at the National Security Agency.
Separately, Google asked the secret court that approves
spying requests for a public hearing on their quest to reveal
how many orders the company complies with. Facebook and Yahoo
Inc made their own first filings on Monday seeking the
ability to disclose more about the orders following Google and
Microsoft Corp filings in June.
Google's new court filing adds to its earlier petition. It
complains that its reputation and business have been damaged by
what it says were misleading reports that the NSA had "direct
access" to its internal servers. The companies have denied those
reports, and most now publish summaries that give the number of
all the government requests they receive.
Most lump together foreign intelligence demands with routine
criminal inquiries, though Google says it receives fewer than
1,000 National Security Letters per year, affecting fewer than
The companies want to say more, and Google argues that its
First Amendment right to speak out, especially on a matter of
great political and public importance, outweighs any harm to
intelligence efforts that would come from releasing more
detailed but still aggregate statistics.
"The government has identified no statute or regulation that
prohibits such disclosure and it is not appropriate for this
court to undertake the essentially legislative function of
creating such a prohibition," Google wrote in its filing with
the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The court, whose members are appointed by the U.S. Supreme
Court chief justice, has never held a public session and
generally hears only from the U.S. Justice Department and
intelligence agency lawyers.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Google's move follows its confirmation that it is moving
more quickly to encrypt data as it moves internally at the
On Sunday, Brazilian television cited new Snowden documents
in reporting that the NSA has tried to attack Google or at least
intercept communications from its users to the company. [ID:
"As for recent reports that the U.S. government has found
ways to circumvent our security systems, we have no evidence of
any such thing ever occurring," a Google spokesman said Monday.
The panel established by the White House, called the Review
Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, was charged
with recommending how to balance security and privacy concerns.
President Barack Obama met with the new group on Aug. 27. On
Monday, it met with the big technology companies and separately
met with privacy and civil liberties groups.
Someone briefed on the first meeting said the companies were
united in seeking more transparency and that they found the
The review panel is to provide an interim report within two