The United States government defended a heavily-redacted response to surveillance requests at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) made by multiple software technology companies including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook and LinkedIn. These companies have been petitioning the special court to allow them to disclose government requests. Under the law these companies cannot disclose this information because it has been deemed "classified."
"Allowing the government to file an ex parte brief in this case will cripple the providers' ability to reply to the government's arguments and is likely to result in a disposition of the providers' First Amendment claims based on information that the providers will never see," the tech companies said in a motion to strike the classified redacted information.
They are referring to the 33-page response, much of which has been black lined because the government says it is too sensitive to be seen – even by the courts. Text is blacked out on every sheet of the 33-page brief, with some pages redacted in their entirety.
In its response filed on Friday, the government claimed that "none of the legal arguments in the government's public brief have been redacted. The brief was carefully reviewed to provide as much information as possible to the companies and to the public, consistent with national security. The redacted information supports the government's decision to classify the data the companies seek to disclose."
However, of its own accord, the government also attached a copy of its response brief that reveals footnote four on page nine, which had previously been redacted. That revealed footnote states, "The companies' focus on 'the names and identifiers of targets' mirrors the narrow focus of their underlying merits motions. While it is important to protect the secrecy of the identity of foreign intelligence targets, that is not the only type of national security information that is protected from disclosure."
Interestingly enough none of the redacted information refers to a specific surveillance target, but rather details "how an adversary could use the companies' proposed disclosures to determine the capabilities and limits of the government's surveillance."
The government concludes by saying that the redactions in its brief do not materially affect any of the arguments the companies can offer in favor of disclosing the classified data and that it is in compliance with the rules of procedure and therefore "raises no First Amendment issues."
The case revolves around disclosures made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who detailed at length the NSA's spying programs on American citizens, targeting data on mobile phones and internet services.
You can read the government's response here (PDF).
Source: Courthouse News