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Government Privacy

Microsoft and Google Challenge US Government Gag Orders 115

Posted by timothy
from the infinite-gagging dept.
First time accepted submitter ace37 writes "Microsoft says it plans to move ahead with a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government in June to affirm the right of businesses to disclose limited information about government demands for data made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In separate legal filings, Microsoft and Google challenged the gag order that typically accompanies FISA demands for customer data. The two companies asserted that they have a First Amendment right to publish the total number of FISA requests received and the total number of user accounts covered by such requests."
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Microsoft and Google Challenge US Government Gag Orders

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  • Here's hoping... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by static0verdrive (776495) on Friday August 30, 2013 @06:56PM (#44720857) Homepage Journal
    This type of lawsuit can help regain some of the liberties the government has taken away, or at least some of the transparency. #WishfulThinking
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "This type of lawsuit can help regain some of the liberties the government has taken away FROM CORPORATIONS, or at least some of the transparency".

      FTFY

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Here's hoping that standing up for civil rights makes good business sense. That's the only way it can attract the attention of big money to push back the other big money behind the power grab. Start a civil war of sorts inside the business community, and it might become conscious.

      • by icebike (68054)

        I can't imagine any "Big Money" is in favor of this power grab. Except perhaps those selling equipment.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I hope you're right in hoping for that. However, I feel that it'll be a catalyst for a nail in the coffin for this sort of "bitch". I mean to say that once there's a ruling in favor of the government's gag orders, there can be no more bitching.

      Another point to reflect on, is that they're "bitching" about posting numbers. Who the fuck cares about the numbers? If the government wants to see *my* data, then it'd be real fucking nice if *I* was told about it. So if my google account was needing to be "sear

    • No it's not - they're not on your side.. when will people learn this? Corporations only care about profit - not your rights. This is just really manipulative PR - your rights were taken away but you're suppose to feel a sense of victory that the constitution will hold up in this particular circumstance. I have no doubt that limited disclosure will be allowed - but it just gets you use to the idea of illegal mass surveillance.
      They are turning up the heat and although you may get use to it - you're slowly boi

    • by doccus (2020662)

      This type of lawsuit can help regain some of the liberties the government has taken away, or at least some of the transparency. #WishfulThinking

      Agreed. At the very least they will no longer have the cover of darkness.As long as they can slap a gag order on any request , no matter how immoral illegal (or fattening .. sorry just had to throw that in ;-), they can pretty much do whatever they want. There is in fact NO difference between a soviet style system and a US style system using gag orders.

  • by oDDmON oUT (231200) on Friday August 30, 2013 @06:57PM (#44720869)

    Particularly Wastebook, stand up and do the same.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Americans, enjoying your fascism yet?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 30, 2013 @07:48PM (#44721117)

        Americans, enjoying your fascism yet?

        Sorry but I'm not allowed to answer that question.

      • by icebike (68054)

        Americans, enjoying your fascism yet?

        Go ahead, convince us its better where you live.

        • by NatasRevol (731260) on Friday August 30, 2013 @09:19PM (#44721493) Journal

          As long as you're not a whistleblower, its fine here!

          Or object to 'national security' bullshit.

          Or don't want to get groped at the airport.

          Or want to legitimately protest what's going on.

          Or....
          Or...
          Or..
          Or.
          Or
          o

          • Your place sounds even equally as bad...

            • by Anonymous Coward

              Your place sounds even equally as bad...

              That's because his place is the USA, silly.

        • by jopsen (885607) <jopsen@gmail.com> on Saturday August 31, 2013 @04:37AM (#44722805) Homepage

          Go ahead, convince us its better where you live.

          Get real...
          I live in Denmark, I have yet to hear about no-fly-lists, warrantless wiretapping exists only if
          1) waiting for a court order would imply loss of opportunity, however, the case must be presented
          before the courts within 24 hours.
          2) we're in a state of war, then the minister of defense can with authorize warrantless wiretapping.

          Source, answer by minister of justice (Danish):
          http://www.ft.dk/samling/20101/almdel/reu/spm/381/svar/762713/928490/index.htm [www.ft.dk]?

          I'm not familiar with any secret courts, and seriously doubt that the European Court of Human Rights,
          to which my government answers, would look favorably upon secret courts.

          Also I'm pretty sure the intelligence services don't have authority to kill people, not foreign citizen, not Danish citizens,
          they don't even have the authority to help the American intelligence services commit murder, meaning sharing intelligence
          that would lead to murder, is not allowed...

          Looking a internet logging, the ISPs are required to log a lot of data, ie. every 20th session or so, by log I mean time and IPs not content.
          However, these cannot be accessed without court order, and are held by the ISPs not the agencies that would want to query them.

          • It probably helps that you're not living in a country that declares a War on Something at the drop of a hat. Seriously, we've got the War on Terror, War on Drugs, War on Poverty, War on Crime... hell I can't even remember the whole list off the top of my head.

            Mind you, war does seem to be one of your listed exceptions, so stay vigilant. War on a stateless actor should be impossible, so if the US government can get away with it, a convenient fiction can probably be manufactured by the Danish establishment, p

            • by jopsen (885607)

              So keep it together, please; somebody's going to have to step up for refugees if the US keeps going downhill towards tyranny, and that's a LOT of people looking for 'any port in a storm.'

              I don't hope the world will come to that... Seriously, I'm moving to the US next month :)

              Actually, and maybe I'm just naive, but I think that the US will get better... I mean you got healthcare fixed...
              Yes, yes, it's not perfect, but at least anyone who is responsible and isn't poor will be able to get/change healthcare insurance despite pre-existing conditions (starting 2014, I think).

              The U.S. isn't perfect, but you're are big country, there're also dubious countries in the EU too.
              Only, in the EU pov

    • by icebike (68054)

      Particularly Wastebook, stand up and do the same.

      Does Facebook even HAVE data they promise not to share openly? I thought that was their business model.

      • by NoKaOi (1415755) on Friday August 30, 2013 @08:52PM (#44721383)

        Particularly Wastebook, stand up and do the same.

        Why? Facebook's whole business model is based around selling data to advertisers. If it costs more to sue the gov't than what they would be charging the government for that data (maybe they already are) then, from a business perspective, why would they sue them? From a PR perspective, they want push the point that sharing your personal data is just fine, so suing would also be contrary to that goal.

        Does Facebook even HAVE data they promise not to share openly?

        While I don't think they promise anything, they don't generally share all their data openly. They charge money for it. Sure, on an individual basis you can get a lot of data openly on somebody based on their "public" profile, but you'll need to pay them if you want all of it or want it in bulk.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday August 30, 2013 @06:58PM (#44720873) Homepage Journal

    requested the ability to treat Windows security bug reporters as being in league with terrorists by invoking the Patriot Act.

    My head is spinning.

  • by mschaffer (97223) on Friday August 30, 2013 @07:03PM (#44720897)

    Why can't MS and Google publish "metadata" on the number of FISA requests and number of accounts requested?
    If it is good for the goose, it's good for the gander.

  • by SeaFox (739806) on Friday August 30, 2013 @07:04PM (#44720901)

    Gee, thanx Microsoft and Google, for doing something..

    Where were the Champions of Justice when these requests first started coming to you?
    I see. It's different now that you've been exposed to the public as cooperating in all this.

    • by kqs (1038910) on Friday August 30, 2013 @07:34PM (#44721039)

      Google, at least, [zdnet.com] has been fighting this for a while. Probably Microsoft too.

      You know, I often wonder why companies like Google even bother fighting for our privacy, when people like you are happy to whine and complain about them without looking into the facts. Why do they bother fighting the good fight when they know that no matter what they do, they'll be blamed and hated. Just think, your ignorance is helping the NSA and hurting Google and Microsoft. Bet you feel mighty proud.

      The solution, as always, is knowledge. Know who to support. Know who to vote for. Know what to write your congresscritters. Learn, and always assume that there is something you don't know so you have to learn more, and look behind the curtains.

      • by markjhood2003 (779923) on Friday August 30, 2013 @09:18PM (#44721491)

        I often wonder why companies like Google even bother fighting for our privacy, when people like you are happy to whine and complain about them without looking into the facts.

        I would think that most people, after looking at the facts, would conclude that neither Google nor Microsoft have any real concern about fighting for their users' privacy. Do you not have any recollection of Eric Schmidt's famous quote, "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place"?

        Google and Microsoft are effectively in the same business as the NSA. The only reason to have any sympathy for them is that instead of competing against another business, they are competing against the US government, which basically nationalized their data collection mechanisms for their own purposes.

        • by kqs (1038910)

          I'm assuming that TFS reads differently in your world? But I agree, it's best to make up your mind before deciding which facts to ignore.

          I'm assuming, from your quote of Eric Schmidt, that you disagree with him. In what way? If you don't want people knowing that you go it a DUI, for example, what do you suggest:

          1) Passing laws forcing people to not talk about things you don't want them to talk about. Should work well with the Bill of Rights.
          2) Use telepathy to remove the knowledge from peoples' brains.
          3

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Sure, I have even better recollection of that quote.

          Schmidt was asked, "People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?" He replied: "I think judgment matters. If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines, including Google, do retain this information for some time. And it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that information could be made available to the authorities."

          Exactly what he was fucking warning you about, but twits like you cut it down to "Let them eat cake" to bitch about Schmidt and Google.

      • by AHuxley (892839)
        The audio, video, text trust in US encryption is gone. Global trust is the brands is gone. People will love the products but at a 'free' joke like level.
        The data "in" will be spread over a few more distant groups and what the NSA can get will be more difficult.
        People can expect to be hunted down 'before' 'during' and 'after' a protest organised via the US "brands" products.
        The "before" part was always a bit of a mystery. Now cameras and legal staff will be waiting.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Until it was exposed they were in a position that neither of them could even mention it publically. IT appears BOTH have been fighting it since well before it was exposed though.
    • by gooman (709147) on Friday August 30, 2013 @08:11PM (#44721223) Journal

      I understand your frustration, but I don't agree with your conclusion; It's not too little too late.

      The subject needed to be burned into the global public consciousness before any effective action could be taken.
      Granted they are mostly acting in self interest (protecting in their bottom line), they are corporations after all. Regardless, the battle against big government overreach will be very expensive, MS and Google have the funds, but they aren't going to spend it if they don't see the need or have the support.

      My fear is that they will allow themselves to be bought off through some sort of government contract or protectionism (See, I'm cynical too).
      However, both companies are global players and have seen push-back from foreign governments, so any sort of payoff would have to outweigh that.

      This is a great development. Let's hope it reigns in some of this nonsense.

      • by rts008 (812749)

        Let's hope it reigns in some of this nonsense.

        No! They are already trying to act as kings.

        reigns: something a king or emperor does

        reins: straps used to control horses and such

        Reins would have been a better, or proper choice here.
        English can be tricky, due in part by the multitude of homophones. :-)

        Now the pedantry is out of the way, I have to give you a tip of hat for your comment.
        With the trivial exception of 'reigns', you said it far better than I could have.

      • by Githaron (2462596)

        This is what needs to be done. The problem is I don't know how to be successful getting this types of laws passed:

        We need to make it so that the government cannot request the data without a court order. The court order should be required to be put into public record within 48 hours of the data transfer. This gives the government enough time to deal with time sensitive arrests while preventing abuse since their actions will shortly be revealed to the public. We need to them make it illegal for corporations t

    • by shentino (1139071)

      Exposed indeed.

      What are the chances they could have voluntarily revealed themselves?

  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Friday August 30, 2013 @07:05PM (#44720907) Homepage

    I am not saying that this would not have happened without his revelations, but I suspect that the feelings of antipathy that he has helped to stir up about the NSA & government spying have given companies more courage in pushing harder to challenge these things. Maybe for fear of loosing users if they are seen to cave in too easily, maybe because they really do want to do the right thing and feel that the tide might turn and make the effort worth while.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Maybe for fear of loosing users

      Unintentionally insightful. They are indeed setting their users free... but I think it was Snowden that loosed us. Maybe Snowden loosed their courage, or maybe it was a freaked out "Oh, shit, we gotta do somethin'!"

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday August 30, 2013 @07:43PM (#44721099) Homepage

      No. Think about it for a moment.

      The NSA was within a hair's breadth of creating the most impressive cloud based uber-backup / social networking / information-wants-to-be-everywhere system ever devised. Had they had the sense to market it instead of hide it, people would have been all over themselves to sign up.

      Google and Microsoft have belatedly figured out that they're competing with the US Government. They didn't like that at all.

      • So what you're saying is that Mark Zuckerberg is head of the NSA?

        That probably would have been the easier route for the NSA.

        • by AHuxley (892839)
          Yes a nice internal "telco" like splitter at the clear text adversing plain text end.
          Nobody would have ever known. The sockpuppets on Slashdot could have posted citation needed for years.
          The internal legal teams would have been unaware, the staff just seeing 'contractors' at another door outside their pay grade.
          Why did the big brands in the USA risk all? What made then roll over vs the trust as global .com brands?
        • by stooo (2202012)

          >> So what you're saying is that Mark Zuckerberg is head of the NSA?

          No. Mark zuckerberg is not the Head of the NSA. He is the head of the voluntary data collection department of the NSA.

  • by wjcofkc (964165) on Friday August 30, 2013 @07:07PM (#44720923)
    I can think of more than a few other very large companies, who through the nature of the business they conduct, should be joining Microsoft and Google. This is a good start, but it would be nice to see a whole bunch of companies gang up on the government over this. It might also help the little guys stand up.
  • Metadata (Score:5, Funny)

    by Redbaran (918344) on Friday August 30, 2013 @07:07PM (#44720927)
    Come on government, it's just metadata about your requests, what's the big deal?
    • Now that the cat is out of the bag anyhow, everyone could be happy about metadata reporting;

      Joe User will be happy that "only" x-thousands of users have info turned over out of x-millions of accounts - "what are the odds it's my account?"
      Joe G-Man will be happy that "only" x-thousands of users have info turned over out of x-millions of accounts - "See, we are just doing focused investigations."
      Joe Jihad will be happy that "only" x-thousands of users have info turned over out of x-millions of accounts
  • by Anonymous Coward

    but I fully expect their challenge to be sufficiently weak enough to reach a judgment and fail. The US Government needs this challenge and judgment for appearances that everything is legal.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lest anyone believe the two aforementioned companies are doing this out of the goodness of their heart . . . .

    The ONLY reason they're doing it is because they're bleeding customers due to the ever increasing lack of trust.

  • They are artificial legal constructs, they have no rights
  • Didn't Microsoft and Google get the memo? Everything involving FISA is maximum top secret, not even congress is allowed to know what the FISA court does.

  • I made up the statistic of course, but I wonder how many people the feds are going after. If it is an absurdly high number such as one sixth of Google's userbase, then we should pester our politicians to get this thing changed. If Google is prevented from disclosing the information, then we might as well assume it is at least a number so high that it embarrasses the government du jour.

  • Alternative solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by manu0601 (2221348) on Friday August 30, 2013 @09:32PM (#44721553)
    An alternative solution: first break the gag order, then wait for government attacking in court, and then defend. Attacking for the right to speak seems a looser's position.
    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      That's really risky though, because in many cases where the law is controversial, the courts will just go with applying the law exactly as it is written. Since they'd have broken the law, they'd be guilty and that'd be it.

      They'd need to break the law, drum up enough attention to themselves to cause a fuss and get a judge who'd actually want to open Pandora's Box. That's a lot of requirements. By going more carefully around it, they risk less. It's less good for consumers, because if they lose they might n
      • by manu0601 (2221348)

        That's really risky though, because in many cases where the law is controversial, the courts will just go with applying the law exactly as it is written.

        That is the point. If you believe the gag order is unconstitutional, break it, get sued, and ask the court to apply the constitution (which trumps the law) as it is written.

        Observing the law first means you believe it may stand. That makes your position rather weak.

        • by Dahamma (304068)

          That's a fine position to take when you are an armchair commentator not risking years in prison (regardless of whether a potential conviction and/or years of appeals stand). If people were actually innocent until proven guilty under a Constitutionally approved law that might be a position someone might take, but that's not the case, and few people (I assume including you) are truly ready to sacrifice their life for a cause like this...

          • by manu0601 (2221348)

            I am not a billion-worth transnational corporation. I cannot afford the lawyers to fight this case, nor I can pay the bonds to remain out of prison during the trial. They can.

            Since US justice got completely unfair regarding the indicted's wealth, there is some moral duty for however can afford to get landmark ruling to take the risk for it.

            But moral duties is not increasing shareholder's profits, hence it is an alien concept for a mega corporation. This is why they are going toward this minimal service path

            • by Dahamma (304068)

              Except violating a NSL gag order is a *criminal* offense punishable by 5 years in prison, and regardless of whether bonds can be paid for bail the executives who would be responsible have no more interest or "moral duty" to risk a conviction and significant federal prison sentence than you or I.

              That of course is the *reason* people have not been fighting these with that strategy, but instead following the law and challenging them in court (which was the whole point of TFA). And as far a minimal service an

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      A telco tried that http://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-story-of-joseph-nacchio-and-the-nsa-2013-6 [businessinsider.com.au]
      US federal courts are very tame, mix in a legal team that might need a security clearance and its a hard defend.
      • by manu0601 (2221348)
        But the TFA says he is not in prison for breaking a gag order, or for refusing NSA plans, but for insider trading...
        • by AHuxley (892839)
          Today's Fun Article was commenting on a version of the "first break the gag order, then wait for government attacking in court, and then defend" mentioned in the "Alternative solution".
          The defence team did bring up aspects of the NSA's domestic surveillance program.
          You also have a mention of FBI, CIA, and .... DEA - something that seems to be news in 2013.
          You can read more at http://cryptome.org/mayer-016.pdf [cryptome.org] eg
          "... May 11, 2006, that the NSA has engaged in a continuing program of intelligence gatherin
  • I'd be more impressed if they actually fought the demands for the customer data in the first place rather than wanting to disclose a few non-specific details about how they complied with them.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Call me cynical, but it's worth reminding people:

    Skype accesses your /etc/passwd password files if your run it on Linux:
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=548898
    (And also your mozilla bookmarks)

    Google cloud print receives everything you print to your printer and yet they don't list it in your privacy control panel as things they know about you.
    Likewise they know every site you visit if you logged into any Google service, and the site has adsense or Google's stats (that's most sites) and they don't lis

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Only if you're silly enough to install their RPM as root, which I have never done, and never will.

      Use the tarball, put the extracted binaries in ~someuser/bin, and run it as someuser, with only the minimal privileges necessary, then let it have all the fun it wants, trying all day to access your /etc/passwd.

      It also pays to become friends with setuid.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The /etc/passwd file is not protected - anyone can read it and its contents are not considered secret. (And no, there are no passwords or even encrypted password hashes there. Merely the list of users - which many applications need in order to perform. "ls -l" will access /etc/passwd too, to print the usernames...)

  • Beginning January, 2009, the United States Government became fully transparent. They promised!

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