NSA Keith Alexander

If the NSA can publicly discuss details of surveillance programs, why can’t the companies participating in them?

The FISA court has granted the Justice Department its fourth extension to respond to the requests by Google and Microsoft to lift the gag order preventing them from revealing details of their surveillance work with the government.

The extension means the Justice Department will have until August 13 to file their response.

Reggie Walton, the presiding judge of the FISA court, allowed the two tech monoliths to publicly discuss their petition to the court in June. Both companies are asserting that in light of recent revelations regarding government surveillance programs, they have a first amendment right to reveal how they work with the government and comply with requests for information.

David Drummond, Google’s Chief Legal Officer, writes:

Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue. However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.

From Microsoft’s motion to the court:

The First Amendment does not permit the Government to bar Microsoft from speaking about an issue of great importance to its customers, shareholders, and the public while, simultaneously, senior Government officials are speaking publicly about the very same subject.

Meanwhile the White House convenes Round II today of its super-secret meetings on, ironically, transparency.

“For the second time this week, the White House declined to comment on its privacy outreach — though the stealthy nature of the sessions, the lack of public details and the fact high-level government leaders have participated is generating some suspicion around town,” says Politico.

Photo of NSA’s Keith Alexander by the Center for Strategic International Studies under Creative Commons license