Big companies say they want to turn the legal tide against warrant-less wiretapping and other methods used by federal agencies to conduct secret, sweeping surveillance of Americans online.
Four tech giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo have filed amicus briefs in support of legal action by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to stop the FBI from indiscriminately issuing National Security Letters, or NSLs, to request customer data from U.S. companies.
Over 300,000 NSLs which gag the recipient from revealing that such a letter was even received have been issued in the last decade, according to the EFF.
The briefs filed on April 7 but kept sealed until May 23 by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco represent the industry's most forceful legal move yet to fight federal spying on their customers.
Whenever the government purports to act in the interests of national security to limit protected speech, it should do so only in compliance with the strict requirements of the First Amendment, the companies wrote in their brief.
Although Judge Susan Illston of the 9th Circuit ruled in March, 2013, that the gag orders on previously-issued NSLs were unconstitutional, the order has been stayed until the full court hears the government's appeal.
For more than a decade, the Justice Department, the National Security Agency and the FBI have had little trouble bullying Internet firms into cooperating as they vacuumed up online data about their users.
The U.S. Patriot Act and similar legislation enacted in the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks have kept tech companies from publicly protesting against the routine violation of their customers' constitutional rights even though the government has used those same companies' technologies to spy on U.S. citizens with no previous links to terrorism.
Given their prior passivity, anyone looking to the tech industry to lead the fight against indiscriminate online surveillance has been long disappointed.
And the amicus briefs aren't the only recent moves by leading tech firms to break ranks with Washington.
In early May, Apple came out with more constitutionally-friendly guidelines regarding warrantless data requests a position strong enough to win praise from both the EFF and the American Civil Liberties Union which have sued on behalf of Americans to end the practice.
Apple's move came four weeks after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a well-publicized phone call to President Obama complaining about NSA surveillance, and a week before Cisco CEO John Chambers sent a letter with a similar appeal.
While Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Google's Eric Schmidt and Larry Page and Microsoft's Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have been long absent from the online privacy fight, at least some top Silicon Valley executives have gotten the message that siding with the NSA is bad for business.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a much-watered-down version of a bill meant to rein in domestic spying.
Given that the battle for constitutional freedoms is a never-ending and hard-fought one, the tech giants' better-late-than-never legal filings are welcome news for Internet privacy advocates.