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Leaked Document Reveals Mystery Tech Firm Challenged NSA Surveillance

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

This is the first time that a refusal to comply with a government surveillance directive has been made public

A document that had remained secret since 2014 has been leaked online, revealing that an unknown technology company challenged NSA surveillance demands.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) leaked the document last week after issuing the US government with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking spying records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

ACLU says that, as far as it is aware, this case was the first time a company has directly disputed the powers given to government agencies by a controversial spying law.

NSA surveillance ACLU

Mass surveillance

The law requires internet service providers to comply with the “warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications”, essentially meaning the government can ask to see the private data of any individual at any time.

The document shows that the company in question refused to comply with the government’s orders related to an “expansion” of surveillance, although the exact details remain redacted.

And, despite the company’s best efforts, it was ultimately ordered by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to comply with the directives.

“Redactions in the document make it impossible to tell details like which company filed the action or exactly what kind of data the government was after,” writes the ACLU.

“But the anonymous tech company that brought this challenge should be commended for defending its users’ privacy, and other companies must do the same by fighting for critical reforms to Section 702 in the courts and in Congress.”

Government surveillance is also a contentious topic this side of the pond. Recent documents leaked by the Open Rights Group revealed the UK government’s plans for “live” internet surveillance of British web users under the Investigatory Powers (IP) Act.

The controversial IP act, also known as the Snooper’s Charter, was passed by parliament last year, but was later declared illegal by the European Court of Justice.

And the topic has been thrust even further into the spotlight in recent months after a spate of terrorist attacks on UK soil. Home secretary Amber Rudd slammed WhatsApp for its “completely unacceptable” use of encryption following the Westminster attack, which quickly sparked a debate around terrorism and today’s privacy conundrum.

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