Facebook to Google Win Justice Battle Over Government Orders

Jan 27, 2014 4:29 pm ET

Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc., Google Inc. and other Internet companies will be able to publicly disclose details about orders compelling them to give the government e-mails and other Internet data about their users.

The U.S. Justice Department today announced an agreement with the companies allowing them to publish, for the first time, information about how many orders they receive under the so- called Prism program, as well as national security letters.

Under the Prism program, exposed in documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency gets court warrants to compel Internet companies to turn over online content created by their users. National security letters are administrative subpoenas from the Justice Department for records and don’t require court approval.

The companies have been prohibited from disclosing any details about the orders, including whether they had ever been served with them.

The companies have said revelations about NSA spy programs have the potential to damage their reputations and drive users away. Google, Microsoft Corp., Yahoo! Inc., Facebook and LinkedIn Corp. filed motions seeking permission to publish details about the government orders.

The Justice Department notified the secret court that oversees spying court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of the deal.

“We’re pleased the Department of Justice has agreed that we and other providers can disclose this information,” the companies said in a joint statement today. “While this is a very positive step, we’ll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed.”

--Editors: Elizabeth Wasserman, Joe Sobczyk