Battles on the Internet privacy front: Google and Apple are among technology companies that won U.S. permission to disclose more about government orders for customer data, a step they sought to fortify their reputations after revelations about their role in U.S. spying.But Google lost its bid for a federal appeals court review of a ruling that permitted a lawsuit to go forward over claims the company violated wiretap laws by scanning the contents of private e-mail messages.
- Data Agreement
Tech firms have won U.S. permission to disclose more about government orders for customer data, a step they sought to fortify their reputations after revelations about their role in U.S. spying.
Companies including Apple, which was the first to report details allowed under the agreement with the Justice Department announced, are allowed to say broadly how many accounts are covered by government requests and whether the content of users’ communications was sought.
Daniel Castro, an analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, said the accord will provide only limited help to companies seeking to contain a global backlash that he has said could cost the U.S. economy $22 billion to $35 billion over the next three years.
“It doesn’t clear up the fear, doubt and uncertainty that is hurting the ability of U.S. companies to sell their products and services abroad,” Castro said in an e-mail.
Companies, wanting to show that they safeguard privacy and carefully vet government requests, had made their case to senior U.S. officials including President Barack Obama. They said their reputations and future profits were put at risk by former government contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations that the National Security Agency had access to information about their customers’ Internet use.
The agreement allows the companies to publish, for the first time, aggregate numbers of orders under the NSA’s so- called Prism program, as well as national security letters seeking information for investigations.
“Communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said n a joint statement.
Under Prism, the NSA gets court warrants to compel Internet companies to turn over online content created by their users. National security letters are administrative subpoenas from the Justice Department for records and don’t require court approval.
Prism was among the NSA surveillance programs exposed by Snowden, who faces U.S. charges of espionage and theft and is residing in Russia under temporary asylum.
The companies previously have been prohibited from disclosing any details about the orders, even whether they had received them. Google, Microsoft Corp., Yahoo! Inc., Facebook Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. had filed motions with the secret court that oversees spying under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act asking to be able to publish details.
- Wiretap suit
Google has lost its bid for a federal appeals court review of a ruling that permitted a lawsuit to go forward over claims the company violated wiretap laws by scanning the contents of private e-mail messages.
U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh in San Jose, California, denied Google’s request for the appeal hearing in an order yesterday. While allowing federal claims in the lawsuit to proceed in a Sept. 26 ruling, Koh has yet to rule whether the plaintiffs can represent all Gmail users, as well as people whose messages were received by a Gmail user.
Lawsuits against Internet companies and social networks are multiplying as users become more aware of how much personal information they’re revealing, often without their knowledge. In San Jose, Yahoo! Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. also face accusations they’ve intercepted communications for their profit at the expense of users or non-users.
In her ruling yesterday, Koh wrote the case is a combination of various suits from different U.S. states with related claims, the oldest of which was filed more than three years ago. Koh said the plaintiffs and Google have fully argued in court filings whether the case should proceed as a group lawsuit, and that she will rule on that request “shortly” with a target trial date in October.
“The long and tortuous procedural history of this litigation,” Koh wrote, “demonstrates why further delaying this three-year-old litigation for immediate appellate review is unwarranted.”
The case was brought by users of Gmail and other e-mail services from states including Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida. They claim Google exploits the content of messages so that it can profit from the creation of user profiles and targeted advertising.
Google, the operator of the world’s largest search engine, had argued that Koh’s Sept. 26 ruling is a “novel interpretation” of wiretap laws and raised issues that had never been addressed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.