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Justice Department slip names Google in data demands case

A recent court filing by the Justice Department redacts Google's name in all instances but one, finally making official what had been an open secret.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
FBI Director Robert Mueller has called national security letters, which do not require a judge's approval, a "proven and useful investigative tool."
FBI Director Robert Mueller has called National Security Letters, which do not require a judge's approval, a "proven and useful investigative tool." Getty Images

Google's name might be household fare for the rest of us, but in at least one national security court case, it is still subject to redaction -- as long as the government remembers to obfuscate all instances of the company's name.

The Wall Street Journal reported that a Department of Justice court filing on August 23 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York didn't redact Google's name in one instance from the document [PDF], finally confirming what many had suspected: that Google was the unnamed company fighting the government's use of National Security Letters to gain access to company-owned data.

Google is one of the few companies thought to have contested such requests. Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Matt Zimmerman told Bloomberg in April that the US government has issued more than 300,000 such letters since 2000, which have been contested only by four or five recipients.

The letters routinely come with a gag order that prevents the recipient from discussing the case in public. Google recently challenged those gag orders, making it the first company to do so, but the company was ordered to comply with the FBI's secret NSL demands.