For the very first time ever, the FOIA blog has a guest blogger. Our guest blogger is Fiona Causer. She is currently a student pursuing her bachelor's degree in Legal Studies. She enjoys writing and seeks to use it as a vehicle to convey ideas and engage others in discussing relevant issues of our day. Ms. Causer writes about the current FOIA lawsuit EPIC has with the NSA concerning the NSA's relationship with Google. The opinions in the article are solely those of Ms. Causer.
Google’s Relationship with the NSA: EPIC and the Public’s Right to Know
Along with American individuals being granted the rights to freedom of speech, privacy and various others as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, the American public, through the Freedom of Information Act, also has a right to know whether companies with services they utilize on a daily basis, such as Google, are in dealings with the U.S. government. While this does present some legal obstacles of how to handle properly, attorneys and paralegals still must learn to tackle these issues head-on. Fortunately, the wide availability of law and online paralegal resources on the Internet make accessing educational and applicable information a lot easier. But unfortunately, the task of creating change is still a tremendous challenge, especially if dealing with a Fortune 500 company and the U.S. government.
According to rt.com, the Electronic Privacy Information Center("EPIC"), began asking for information on an alleged alliance between the United States National Security Agency ("NSA"), and internet giant Google in 2010. Since then, the NSA has been refusing to submit to Freedom of Information Act requests. EPIC is now suing the NSA; the U.S. District Court of Appeals was to hear arguments late in March 2012, and EPIC hoped light would be shed on whether the NSA and Google were in cahoots. The purpose of EPIC is “to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values;” does the public have a right to know about any behind the scenes agreement between the government and the search engine giant?
EPIC sent its FOIA request to the NSA shortly after Google reported a cyber attack on its network and other companies. Google said hackers in China had stolen intellectual property and tried to get access to the Gmail accounts of human rights activists. According to Wired, in 2010, “The agreement between Google and the NSA, still being finalized, would allow Google to share critical information with the NSA about the attacks and its network — such as the malicious code that was used and its network configurations — without violating Google’s policies or laws that protect the privacy of users’ communications, the sources say.”
But EPIC director Marc Rotenberg believed there was much more going on, that the NSA and Google had been involved in talks prior to the hacking. EPIC wanted to know if the NSA had anything to do with the fact that Gmail was not encrypted prior to 2010. Consumer Watchdog has also been suspicious of Google and the NSA, writing: "The search giant has a legitimate need to cooperate with the government’s mammoth and secretive code breaking agency in its efforts to defend the integrity of US computer networks. But NSA also has legal power to force Google to hand over the private information of its users. How Google executives handle this potentially conflicted relationship is largely unknown: neither Google nor the NSA are talking."
Is there anything wrong with the NSA potentially getting confidential information about Google users in the interest of national security? Are violations of first amendment freedom of speech and press laws and fourth amendment guarantees about protection from unreasonable search and seizure involved? Says the website Findlaw: “[p]reservation of the security of the Nation from its enemies, foreign and domestic, is the obligation of government and one of the foremost reasons for government to exist. Pursuit of this goal may lead government officials at times to trespass in areas protected by the guarantees of speech and press and may require the balancing away of rights which might be preserved inviolate at other times.”
The public may not learn about the full extent of the agreement between Google and the NSA; in 2011, Federal District Court Judge Richard J. Leon sided with the NSA, saying that acknowledging the existence or nonexistence of the information EPIC was asking for could harm national security (PC World).