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Here are some of the government gag orders Google gets

The web giant begins publishing now-unrestricted letters that let the FBI acquire information from companies about their customers.

Tech companies regularly receive secret government requests for users' information.
Getty Images

Tech companies must often walk a fine line between its customers' expectations for privacy and the US government's secret demands for user information. Now Google is showing how delicate that balancing act can be.

The web giant on Tuesday began publishing some of the gag orders it has received as part of national security letters (NSLs), which let the FBI get information from companies about their customers without alerting the person being investigated. No court approval is required for the federal subpoena, and NSLs typically contain a gag order that prevents the recipient from disclosing the request.

The move is part of Google's effort to increase transparency about what information is requested and provided, the company said.

"Our goal in doing so is to shed more light on the nature and scope of NSLs," Richard Salgado, Google's director for information security and law enforcement matters, wrote in a company blog post Tuesday. "We minimized redactions to protect privacy interests, but the content of the NSLs remain as they were when served."

Tech companies have sought legal permission for greater transparency about the government requests since 2013 when reports based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden alleged that they provided the NSA with "direct access" to their servers through a so-called Prism program. The companies have denied that allegation and petitioned the government to allow them to publish, in detail, the types of national security requests they have received under the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The letters are being published in accordance with the 2015 USA Freedom Act, which requires the Justice Department to regularly review disclosure restrictions contained in NSLs and lift them when they are no longer relevant.

The Justice Department declined to comment.