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Tech firms Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft cite rights in resisting feds' gag orders

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By The Washington Post
Sunday, May 25, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Court documents unsealed Friday show Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft are arguing that government gag orders that stop them from disclosing the number of national security requests they receive violate the companies' First Amendment right to free speech.

The pushback against the government orders occurs as leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the government uses tech firms in its surveillance efforts. Those revelations are damaging the bottom lines of the companies and their reputations, particularly overseas.

The gag orders, called “national security letters,” compel web and telecommunication companies to share information with the government while simultaneously prohibiting them from speaking about the request publicly. Since the Snowden leaks, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft have fought to include more information about national security requests in regular reports that they release on how much data the government requests from their servers.

In the court documents, filed in April with the 9th Circuit Court in California, the tech giants argue that the government is infringing on their First Amendment rights. The government has argued that companies have no First Amendment right to share information gained from participation in a secret government investigation, according to the filing.

The case is on appeal.

The companies do not want to disclose any information that would place specific investigations in jeopardy, the filings note. But they do “wish to publish more detailed aggregate statistics about the volume, scope and type of (national security letters) that the government uses to demand information about their users,” and reject the arguments the government has made to justify the gag orders.

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