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Court accidentally leaks Google's name on request to reveal a secret subpoena

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Supreme Court 4 (Verge Stock)
Supreme Court 4 (Verge Stock)

A court successfully stopped Google from admitting that it had received secret requests for user data, but some sloppy redacting accidentally gave the company what it was asking for. Earlier today, The Wall Street Journal posted a legal request from an unknown company, asking for permission to let it identify itself as the recipient of a national security letter or NSL — an FBI request for information that also forbids the recipient from talking about it. The court had ordered Google to keep quiet about the letter, and it released a heavily redacted version of the request, with all identifying information stripped.

Well, almost all identifying information. On one page of the 10-page document, the court lets the identity of the company slip. "On June 6, 2013, the public's already healthy interest in Google's receipt of, and response to, national security legal process skyrocketed," reads the document. Google argued that since it was already allowed to list general numbers of NSLs, concealing the fact that it received them was pointless, and that doing so undermined the public's trust in both Google and the government. It also appears to reference a June 18th request to reveal how many requests it gets under FISA surveillance law, using the same justification.

It's already well-known that Google has fought to have some national security letters modified or thrown out, though those attempts generally haven't been successful. In this case, it appears to still be respecting the gag order, refusing to confirm it was involved in the case to the Journal. "We fight for our users and have petitioned the US government for more openness about their requests for user information, so we find the government's position in this case disappointing," it said instead. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge, nor did the attorney named on the request.

Update: Google has declined to comment specifically on the case, reiterating its above statement.