A federal judge has ordered that whether Google is spying for National Security Agency or not, you have no right to know.
“The NSA need not disclose ‘the organization or any function of the National Security Agency, [or] any information with respect to the activities thereof,’” U.S. District Judged Richard Leon has ordered.
“Once the agency, through affidavits, has created ‘as complete a public record as is possible’ and explained ‘in as much detail as is possible the basis for its claim,’ … ‘the court is not to conduct a detailed inquiry to decide whether it agrees with the agency’s opinions,’” he said.
The demand for information had been raised by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which said the ruling would be appealed.
“EPIC had sought documents under the FOIA because such an agreement [between Google and NSA] could reveal that the NSA is developing technical standards that would enable greater surveillance of Internet users,” the organization explained.
“The [response] to neither confirm nor deny is a controversial legal doctrine that allows agencies to conceal the existence of records that might otherwise be subject to public disclosure,” the group said. “EPIC plans to appeal this decision.”
The court opinion came as a result of a situation in which a Chinese hacking incident in January 2010 raised questions.
The group had wanted information about “arrangements with Google on cybersecurity, as well as records regarding the agency’s role in setting security standards for Gmail and other web-based applications.”
The organization explained that it was on Jan. 12, 2010, when Google said hackers from China had attacked Google’s corporate infrastructure. The company had said evidence suggested “that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.”
The press then reported Google and the NSA “had entered into a ‘partnership’ to help analyze the attack by permitting them to ‘share critical information,’” EPIC reported. Those reports came from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and others.
EPIC was seeking records on any agreement between NSA and Google, communications between the groups and others. NSA denied the request even though Pamela Phillips of the NSA admitted the organization was working “with a broad range of commercial partners and research associates.”
But the agency refused to release further information, “explaining that any response would improperly reveal information about NSA’s functions and activities,” the judge said.
The agency said, “To confirm or deny the existence of any such records would be to reveal whether the NSA … determined that vulnerabilities or cybersecurity issues pertaining to Google or certain of its commercial technologies could make U.S. government information systems susceptible to exploitation or attack.’
According to the judge, the agency said “even an acknowledgment of a relationship between the NSA and a commercial entity could potentially alert ‘adversaries to NSA priorities, threat assessment, or countermeasures.”
According to Courthouse News, the Washington federal judge’s decision was to grant the NSA’s request for a summary judgment dismissing the case.