Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Google secretly handed over WikiLeaks emails and personal data to US government

Disclosures thought to be related to the state secrets that were leaked as part of data handed over to Chelsea Manning

Google handed over emails and data belonging to WikiLeaks and was unable to tell the group that it had done so for three years.

In what WikiLeaks called a “serious violation of the privacy and journalistic rights of WikiLeaks’ staff”, Google handed over the information under a secret search warrant issued by a federal judge in 2012. Google then wrote to Wikileaks on Christmas Eve 2014, telling the group that it had complied with an order from the Justice Department to hand over digital data including all email and IP addresses of three WikiLeaks staff members.

The data requests are thought to be related to an ongoing investigation into WikiLeaks, launched in 2010. It is related to the publication of hundreds of thousands of US government secrets tand cables that were provided by Chelsea Manning.

In a letter published this morning, WikiLeaks said that it was “astonished and disturbed” by the news. It referenced similar cases with Twitter, where the social network resisted similar warrants and after legal challenges won the right to tell its users about such requests.

It asks for Google to provide information on why it didn’t tell WikiLeaks that the search warrant was issued. It also asks whether Google initiated any legal challenge to the warrants and for detail on the timeline and any further warrants issued to Google.

The letter was signed by the three staff members involved in the case, as well as Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ lawyer, and Michael Ratner of the legal advocacy group Center for Constitutional Rights.

Google handed over the data it held on WikiLeaks’ investigations editor, British Sarah Harrison; spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson; and Joseph Farrell, a section editor. The warrant was acquired on the back of conspiracy and espionage charges that could carry up to 45 years in prison.

WikiLeaks released the search and seizure warrants related to the three staff members on its website.

They show that Google was initially kept from disclosing the legal process to WikiLeaks by a non-disclosure order. It then recently received a second order that allowed Google to disclose to WikiLeaks redacted versions of the legal process — providing the documents that WikiLeaks has now made available.

The warrants, issued by a US District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia, required Google to disclose the contents of all emails, including draft and deleted ones; all personal records such as addresses and the times that users logged on; and all other information stored with Google, such as calendar details and pictures and files.

Google usually notifies users via email before it shares any information with authorities, it writes on the frequently asked questions part of its Transparency Report. But it makes exceptions to that policy if court orders prohibit Google from telling the user about the request, as well as if the circumstances could involve death or injury or if it believes the account has been hijacked.

A Google spokesperson told The Independent: "We don't talk about individual cases.

"Obviously, we follow the law like any other company. 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."

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