NSA Doesn't Have to Respond to FOIA Requests About Google

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 15, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Google and the National Security Agency can keep their clandestine relationship under wraps, says the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling came out last Friday and addressed the Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). In the ruling, the court stated that the NSA does not have to confirm or deny its relationship with Google.

In fact, the NSA can go one step further and refuse to respond to the request, as the court held that even a rejection of the request could reveal details of a potential relationship with Google.

The FOIA exemption reaches to documents whose exposure could hinder the NSA's national security mission.

EPIC filed the FOIA request after The Washington Post reported that Google and the NSA formed an alliance to protect Google from future security attacks, after the company had been hacked by Chinese cyberspies in 2010.

In response to the FOIA request, the NSA issued a response that neither confirmed nor denied the existence of the records sought. The response is known in the privacy world as the Glomar response, which stems from a case involving a journalist who tried to seek information from the CIA on its secret underwater vessel called the "Glomar Explorer."

EPIC challenged the use of this response. In its challenge, EPIC said that the Washington Post story had already confirmed the existence of the relationship between Google and the NSA and as a result, the Glomar response didn't apply.

But in response to the challenge, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the availability of some information didn't mandate that all information needed to be released.

EPIC has not said whether they plan to appeal but if they do, they'll have to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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