Search Warrant For GMail User’s Emails Sparks Privacy Worries

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Privacy concerns raised after US judge grants a warrant against Google to seize an individual’s Gmail emails

A federal judge in New York has issued a warrant against the search-engine giant Google, giving US prosecutors access to the Gmail emails of an unnamed user, who is part of a criminal investigation into money laundering.

The warrant, which US Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein issued on Friday, has raised the issue of privacy because it forces Google to give prosecutors access to all the user’s emails.

See no email?

What has perked the ire of privacy campaigners is that before now, US judges have denied prosecutors broad-based access to a users’ emails, arguing that access to all emails – not just relevant ones – would be a breach of the individuals’ right to privacy.

Privacy1-largeJudge Gorenstein admitted that his decision runs counter to previous rulings in similar cases, but explained that under US law, investigators can review large amounts of documents before they decide which emails are covered by the warrants.

The Google warrant comes after a similar case in April, when US Magistrate Judge James Francis in New York ordered Microsoft to hand over information held at its Dublin, Ireland data centre to US law enforcement. There is no word at the moment where the Google emails reside, and Google has declined to comment on the case.

Microsoft however argued that it was “generally accepted that a US search warrant in the physical world can only be used to obtain materials that are within the territory of the United States”.

Redmond has appealed that court order, which will be heard later this month.

Government Snooping

There has been heightened tension over the US government’s access to people’s data across the world, thanks to the leaks of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden revealed the wholesale data collection programmes of agencies such as the NSA, which sparked outage around the world.

Firms accused of collaborating with the NSA, including Microsoft and Google, have been on the PR offensive arguing they will protect users’ interests, since customers have become increasingly concerned about the privacy of their information.

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