Google Forced To Give Up Wikileaks Volunteer Data To US Court

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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“Because I talked to Julian Assange, all information held by Google relating to my user account with them can be handed over to US prosecutors,” says Herbert Snorrason

Google surrendered private emails of two former Wikileaks volunteers to the US Justice Department, upon receiving a sealed subpoena from the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2011, it has been revealed.

Smari McCarthy and Herbert Snorrason suggest that the emails and other personal information was requested as part of an ongoing investigation into Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange by the federal grand jury.

The two men only found out their data was accessed by a third party when Google notified them on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Assange told a conference in Sydney that Google was “not a friend of Wikileaks”.

The Assange connection

For several months in 2010, McCarthy and Snorrason, both from Iceland, were working for Wikileaks in various administrative roles. Both left the organisation the same year, but didn’t escape the watchful eye of the US authorities.

Justice, court, legal © Evlakhov Valeriy Shutterstock 2012In 2011, Google received a letter demanding it provides extensive information on two former Wikileaks staff, including names, physical addresses, telephone numbers, records of session times and durations, dates on which the accounts were created, log-in IP addresses associated with session times and dates, alternative e-mail addresses provided during registration and means and source of payment, including any credit or bank account numbers.

Google was also ordered to disclose the contents of McCarthy’s and Snorrason’s email inbox, together with “the source and destination addresses associated with each email, the date and time at which each email was sent and the size and length of each email.” The interest of the court wasn’t limited to text, but also “addresses books, contact and buddy lists, calendar data, pictures, and files, including any deleted information.”

The subpoena required data going as far back as November 2009. The warrant also prevented Google from disclosing the existence of the document to anyone before May 2013.

The court order didn’t mention Wikileaks, but Snorrason says his ties to the whistleblower website are the only explanation for this sudden interest.

“I assume it’s because I had a conversation or a few with a white-haired Australian guy, but there’s nothing in the documents to confirm this. Let’s reiterate this, because that’s the point I find the most remarkable in all of this: Because I talked to Julian Assange, all information held by Google relating to my user account with them can be handed over to US prosecutors. Not just the contents of my conversations with Julian,” wrote Snorrason on his blog.

The alleged federal investigation is thought to have begun in March 2010, and is still ongoing.

“It is perhaps telling of the nature of the lives we have been forced to lead that we met the information that our private communications had been searched with no shock at all,” wrote McCarthy on his blog. “Thankfully, neither of us use our Google accounts for anything remotely sensitive.”

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