The government agencies are known to serve notices to technology giants, requesting user information. But, it is sometimes coupled with gag orders — meaning the company cannot notify users that the government has requested for private and sensitive info of their accounts. Thus, hampering the free speech and transparency of the organization over one individual.
Similar has been the case with Adobe but a federal court in California has ruled in favor of the company, according to newly unsealed documents. The court has mentioned that it is unfair for the government to serve an indefinite gag order to the company, such that it cannot make the general masses aware of the surveillance. And there is no doubt that service providers receive numerous gag orders with an indefinite lock-in period.
In the surprise ruling, the Los Angeles federal court has acknowledged that gag orders present serious harm to free speech as they’re known to maintain strict scrutiny over such orders. It comes attached with prior, as well as content-based restraints but the judge in the Adobe case found that the government has failed to provide sufficient proof to support the ongoing nature of their gag order. The government had been providing identical arguments, such as their order not implicating First Amendment rights and Adobe having the power to come to court when the need for gag had passed.
Talking about the same, the case mentions,
As written, the NPO at issue herein effectively bars Adobe’s speech in perpetuity. The government does not contend and has made no showing that Adobe’s speech will threaten the investigation in perpetuity. Therefore, as written, the NPO manifestly goes further than necessary to protect the government’s interest.
With regards to the same, Adobe was successfully able to put their point that the gag orders should come with an expiration date. The orders cannot be indefinite as it hampers the company’s transparency — a responsibility which each tech giant takes very seriously as part of the community they’re building.
The company didn’t deny its compliance to the gag orders but requested the court to provide the same with a deadline, post the said date they can disclose the same in their routine transparency reports. The said ruling in favor of the technology giant is a significant win but we are still far away from not being involved in hush-hush info exchange situations. The government will keep piling on tech giants, who have a treasure trove of data, to lure out suspicious individuals.
Earlier in 2016, Adobe had been issued a gag order under 18 U.S.C. § 2705(b) law which allows for indefinite gags — something which Microsoft has cited as unconstitutional and challenged the Department of Justice (DOJ) challenging the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).
Earlier this month, the Redmond giant published its first national security letter (NSL) in its transparency report. Other technology giants who’ve declared such security inventions are Yahoo, Google, Cloudflare and the Internet Archive. They are no longer looking for a workaround in these NSLs, accompanied with gag orders, but coming out with the truth. Twitter has recently raised the veil on the number of security letter received and info dispensed about its users to the government.