Open information group WikiLeaks has learned that Google had disclosed three staff email addresses to the US government three years ago. This was done after a federal judge issued a warrant. WikiLeaks sent a letter to Eric Schmidt, executive chairman at Google, because they are upset about the fact that it took three years for Google to disclose this information. They claim that the failure to disclose this information means that Google users were not reasonably able to protect their right to privacy.
The letter came from Michael Ratner, who is a New York-based lawyer working at the Center of Constitutional Rights. In it, he requested Google to disclose a full list of the materials that were given to the FBI. Additionally, Ratner wants to know whether any challenge was made against the warrant itself and whether any other demands have been made since.
Interesting, Google made the revelation on Christmas Eve, which is a period when there is very little news. They stated that the emails and IP addresses of three specific members of staff were handed over following an order by the Justice Department. The three staffers were Kristinn Hrafnsson, a Google spokesperson; Sarah Harrison, a British citizen; and Joseph Farrell, a senior editor. Google said that they had been unable to divulge this information sooner as they had also been imposed with a gagging order. These non-disclosure orders have at some point been lifted, although it is not clear when this happened.
Harrison, the British citizen who heads the Courage Foundation, has spoken out about her feelings over the whole affair.
Knowing that the FBI read the words I wrote to console my mother over a death in the family makes me feel sick.
She felt the government invaded her privacy, as she is a British journalist and not a Google employee. As such, she feels that both Google and the government in this country are breaking their own laws, as she is not able to retain her privacy and there is clearly no protection of the press.
It appears that the data net that Google cast was so wide that any and all communication made by or sent to the three people were intercepted. This included draft emails and the content of their trash email. The dragnet included the date and time of the communication, where it went to and came from, how long it was and how big it was. Additionally, all internet account details had to be handed over, including IP addresses and telephone numbers and their online activity.
An expert at the American Civil Union on privacy and staff attorney, Alexander Abdo, expressed his surprise at the “shockingly broad” request of the warrant.
This is basically ‘Hand over anything you’ve got on this person’. That’s troubling as it’s hard to distinguish what WikiLeaks did in its disclosures from what major newspapers do every single day in speaking to government officials and publishing still-secret information.
Google has not disclosed which documents they have provided to the government other than the fact that they came under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Additionally, they were keen to stress that they follow the law and will not further discuss an individual case.
When we receive a subpoena or court order, we check to see if it meets both the letter and the spirit of the law before complying. And if it doesn’t we can object or ask that the request is narrowed. We have a track record of advocating on behalf of our users.
It is believed that the court order is part of a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks, which was originally started in 2010. This was in relation to the very publication of WikiLeaks and included information provided by Chelsea Manning, who is now in prison. The criminal investigation into WikiLeaks was set up under Virginia jurisdiction and in May last year, it was still fully active.
When Chelsea Manning was prosecuted, it was revealed that at least seven people involved with WikiLeaks were being monitored by the FBI. She was convicted to 35 years in a military prison, and she is currently in Fort Leavenworth, KS.
The warrants against WikiLeaks are in relation to Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the 1917 Espionage Act. Indeed, these are the same laws that were used to prosecute Manning. Additionally, Edward Snowden, another whistleblower, has also been charged with the same offenses. According to Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief and founder of WikiLeaks, the warrant is just part of a larger conspiracy against himself and his staff.
Google rolling over yet again to help the US government violate the constitution – by taking over journalists’ private emails in response to give-us-everything warrants.
The warrants themselves are being taken to the Geneva United Nations human rights council. Here, they will be reviewed by Judge Baltasar Garzon, from Spain. He also heads the defense team for Assange, who has been in exile in the embassy to Ecuador in London for several years now. There is currently an extradition warrant out on him to Sweden, where he is alleged to have committed several counts of sexual assault, although he has not been charged with these.
Interesting, Google is not the only one to have received such demands. Twitter had also received a warrant, but they challenged the demand. This gave them the opportunity to tell their users, so they were able to take appropriate safety measures. Twitter was asked to hand over access to the details of Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir and a volunteer for Wikileaks.
Twitter immediately contacted Jonsdottir, so she was able to start a legal campaign. However, despite her efforts and an appeal, a ruling went against her and two other defendants. As a result, information that were collected remained a secret.
Nowadays, it is common for tech companies to at least reveal how often they have received US authority requests to divulge information. However, only rarely will they tell who the targets are. Often, this is because a non-disclosure order is put in place on them. Google, for instance, received some 32,000 requests from various governments. This is an increase of 15% compared to the previous year.