To the consternation of those very few people who still hold on to the antiquated belief that the government has no right to read your mail or other personal communications without probable cause of icky behavior and a warrant comes this:
A District Court Judge in San Francisco has ordered Google to hand over customer user data to the FBI. In a ruling written May 20 and released Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston ordered Google to comply with the FBI's demands.
The case deals with National Security letters that the government routinely mails out to telephone, financial and wireless companies when they want to go on their data fishing expeditions.
The judge rejected Google's position that handing over the material would be both unconstitutional and unnecessary. It is likely that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will have the next say on the matter.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation brought a separate case on the letters and the same judge ruled in March that the FBI's demand that recipients refrain from telling anyone – including customers – that they had received the letters was a violation of free speech rights.
Read more about the matter on Huffpo.
...In 2007, the Justice Department's inspector general found widespread violations in the FBI's use of the letters, including demands without proper authorization and information obtained in non-emergency circumstances. The FBI has tightened oversight of the system.And since we are on the subject, you might want to check out this from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. President Obama has devised even more and sneakier plans for reading your mail. President Foreshadows New Internet Surveillance Proposal During National Security Speech - Trevor Timm
The FBI made 16,511 national security letter requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011, the latest data available.
We certainly agree with the president we need new privacy protections for our digital communications, and it’s encouraging to hear him suggest support for such proposals. After all, we know the vast surveillance authorities given to law enforcement over the last decade’—like the Patriot Act, FISA Amendments Act, and National Security Letters—have been serially abused. Unfortunately, President Obama has actively defended these laws and policies in Congress and the courts, despite promising to reform them as a candidate....the first half of Obama’s statement—about “review the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication”—is quite troubling. The line is likely an allusion to CALEA II, a dangerous proposal the New York Times has reported the administration “is on the verge of backing.” The measure would force companies like Google and Facebook to install backdoors in all of their products to facilitate law-enforcement access, putting both our privacy and security at risk.Show me that spot in the constitution or the Bill of Rights again where it says that the government can read its citizen's mail and listen to anything they may privately say without a warrant.
Law enforcement certainly doesn’t need more legal authorities to conduct digital surveillance. As mentioned above, Congress has already been provided a huge amount of new surveillance authority that has been abused. As former White House Chief Counselor for Privacy Peter Swire said in 2011, "today [is] a golden age for surveillance."