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Google, Microsoft Sue US Government Over Spying Program

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Microsoft and Google don’t want anything more to do with the National Security Agency’s surveillance of Internet communications.

The two tech giants have uncharacteristically banded together to sue the Department of Justice for the right to release more of what they know about Project PRISM and the rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.

What’s more interesting is that Microsoft’s General Counsel, Brad Smith, says he believes that some of the federal surveillance programs are unconstitutional. In a blog entry, Smith stated that Google and Microsoft will file a lawsuit against Uncle Sam to get permission to release details of the programs.

“To followers of technology issues, there are many days when Microsoft and Google stand apart,” Smith wrote. “But today our two companies stand together. We both remain concerned with the Government’s continued unwillingness to permit us to publish sufficient data relating to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders. We believe we have a clear right under the U.S. Constitution to share more information with the public. The purpose of our litigation is to uphold this right so that we can disclose additional data.”

Smith also acknowledged that his company and Google had been negotiating with the Justice Department to get permission to release the data, but the department’s lawyers refused to go along.

The government has, Smith said, agreed to publish the “total number of national security requests” for customer data for the past 12 months and to do that, going forward, once each year. That is a “good start,” Smith wrote, but the “public deserves and the Constitution guarantees more than this first step.”

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Microsoft and Google believe it is “vital” to publish information that “clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email,” Smith wrote.

“These figures should be published in a form that is distinct from the number of demands that capture only metadata such as the subscriber information associated with a particular email address,” Smith said. “We believe it’s possible to publish these figures in a manner that avoids putting security at risk. And unless this type of information is made public, any discussion of government practices and service provider obligations will remain incomplete.

Microsoft and Google tried to avoid a lawsuit, Smith wrote.

“With the failure of our recent negotiations, we will move forward with litigation in the hope that the courts will uphold our right to speak more freely,” he wrote. “And with a growing discussion on Capitol Hill, we hope Congress will continue to press for the right of technology companies to disclose relevant information in an appropriate way.”

The United States, Microsoft’s Smith wrote, has “long been admired” around the world “for its leadership in promoting free speech and open discussion” – and Microsoft and Google want it to stay that way.

“We benefit from living in a country with a Constitution that guarantees the fundamental freedom to engage in free expression unless silence is required by a narrowly tailored, compelling Government interest,” Smith wrote. “We believe there remains a path forward that will share more information with the public while protecting national security. Our hope is that the courts and Congress will ensure that our Constitutional safeguards prevail.”

Off The Grid News has reported extensively on the government’s surveillance programs. President Obama denied the government is spying on Americans, but Van Jones – one of his former aides – disagreed.

“Everybody knows I love this president, but this is ridiculous,” Jones is a former environmental adviser and currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He also is co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire.” “We do have a spying program, and we need to figure out how to balance these out.”

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