Microsoft, Google to sue US government

Technology firms Microsoft and Google are set to sue the US government to win the right to reveal more information about official requests for user data in the wake of revelations by Edward Snowden, the Guardian reported Saturday.

The companies announced the lawsuit Friday after talks with the justice department stalled.

This is expected to escalate a legal battle over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa), which is used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other US government agencies to gather data about foreign internet users.

Microsoft’s general counsel, Brad Smith, made the announcement in a blog post that complained of the government’s “continued unwillingness” to let it publish information about Fisa requests.

Both the firms filed suits in a US federal court in June, arguing that they be allowed to make public more information about user data requests made under FISA.

The tech giants cited the first amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech, to defend corporate reputations battered by Snowden’s revelations.

“On six occasions in recent weeks we agreed with the department of justice to extend the government’s deadline to reply to these lawsuits. We hoped that these discussions would lead to an agreement acceptable to all,” Smith wrote.

The negotiations failed, he wrote, so Google and Microsoft were going to court. He did not specify when, or to which court.

Snowden, a former NSA whistleblower, gave documents to the Guardian and Washington Post revealing NSA claims about access to technology firms’ data via its Prism system.

The companies denied the NSA had “direct access” to their systems but said they were legally unable to disclose how many times they have been asked to provide information on users.

Fisa requests are granted by a special court that sits in secret and can grant the NSA permission to collect data stored by any company about a named person. In 2012, the court granted 1,856 requests and turned none down.