The US government has been involved in a battle with the search engine Google over its email service. It wants the search engine to hand over the metadata related to a security researcher and journalist associated with WikiLeaks.
The Justice Department won an order forcing Google to turn over more than one year’s worth of data from the Gmail account of Jacob Appelbaum, a developer for the Tor online anonymity project who has worked with WikiLeaks as a volunteer. The order gagged Google, preventing it from notifying Appelbaum that his records had been provided to the government.
What is a little alarming for Google mail uses is that the Government won its court order based on an argument that if Appelbaum was using Gmail he had no right to expect privacy.
Rather than seeking a search warrant that would require it to show probable cause that he had committed a crime, the government instead sought and received an order to obtain the data under a lesser standard, requiring only “reasonable grounds” to believe that the records were “relevant and material” to an ongoing criminal investigation.
Google did its best to challenge the demand, and wanted to immediately notify Appelbaum that his records were being sought so he could have an opportunity to launch his own legal defence.
This was particularly true because Appelbaum was a hack and the spooks antics “may implicate journalistic and academic freedom” because they could “reveal confidential sources or information about WikiLeaks’ purported journalistic or academic activities.”
However according to the Justice Department asserted that “journalists have no special privilege to resist compelled disclosure of their records, absent evidence that the government is acting in bad faith,” and refused to concede Appelbaum was in fact a journalist.
Which is interesting because we don’t consider Paul Revere was a journalist but most of the US press laws are based around defending his anti-British magazines.
Google’s attempts to fight the surveillance gag order hacked off the government which expected compliance. The Justice Department stating that the company’s “resistance to providing the records” had “frustrated the government’s ability to efficiently conduct a lawful criminal investigation.”
But Google’s attempt to overturn the gagging order was denied by magistrate judge Ivan D. Davis in February 2011. The company launched an appeal against that decision, but this too was rebuffed, in March 2011, by District Court judge Thomas Selby Ellis.
Appelbaum, an American citizen who is based in Berlin, told The Intercept that the case was “a travesty that continues at a slow pace” and said he felt it was important to highlight “the absolute madness in these documents.”
He commented: “After five years, receiving such legal documents is neither a shock nor a needed confirmation. … Will we ever see the full documents about our respective cases? Will we even learn the names of those signing so-called legal orders against us in secret sealed documents? Certainly not in a timely manner and certainly not in a transparent, just manner.”