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Web giants cry foul over US gov's refusal to budge on NSA spy gag orders

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook must keep because REDACTED

NSA's Fort Meade headquarters

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Facebook are still fighting for permission to warn people who are under online surveillance, after their campaign for transparency was derailed by the US Department of Justice.

The web giants had asked the DoJ to lift restrictions on alerting users when they are being snooped on by intelligence agencies, as notifying those folks is banned by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

But the department refused the request and heavily redacted a document explaining why that ruling was made – which rather impedes the web companies in mounting an appeal against the thinking behind the decision.

According to an appeal filed by the firms yesterday, the DOJ provided a written notification of the ruling, but nearly every word of its justification for the decision was censored due to national security concerns.

"Unless the government reconsiders its refusal to accommodate the providers' legitimate need to understand the basis for the government's response, the providers respectfully request that this Court strike the redacted version of the government's brief and supporting declaration," the companies said in their filing [PDF].

The censored DoJ ruling, issued in late September, turned down a request from the internet titans that they be allowed to disclose additional information to their customers when a government agency has issued a demand for personal records under FISA.

The vendors launched their appeal in hopes of easing FISA rules and gaining more freedom to notify their customers and begin to quell some of the user outrage which arose when revelations surfaced of the extent to which the NSA and GCHQ have been spying on the online activities of citizens.

The companies are now pushing for any number of scenarios to scrutinize the DoJ's justification, ranging from temporary security clearances for their representatives to the use of a third-party moderator who could review and relay select information from the redacted portions of the report. ®

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