Google petitioned the covert Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Tuesday to lift its gag order and allow the company to publicly disclose precisely how many user-data requests it had received from the court, and how many users were affected, the Washington Post reports.
The move comes as the search engine giant attempts to repair damage to its reputation in the wake of allegtations that the company participated in a sweeping Internet surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency and code named PRISM.
Google has frequently been criticized by privacy advocates for its handling of user data and for intrusive advertising. The criticism has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks as the company has attempted to balance its legal obligations to keep quiet about cooperation with federal law enforcement, and its urgent desire to assure customers that their privacy is protected.
Companies served with orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court are legally barred from acknowledging the existence of the orders or publicly disclosing precisely how many they receive in a given time period, frustrating the transparency efforts of Silicon Valley’s biggest players and the NSA’s biggest investigative targets.
In an attempt to circumvent this restriction, Google has annually published an approximation of the number of data requests they’ve received, with the actual number being somewhere within a 1,000 request range.
Several of the companies allegedly involved in the PRISM program, such as Yahoo!, Microsoft and Facebook, have followed Google’s example in recent weeks and released their own FISA request data as they struggle to respond to criticism without violating their own gag orders.