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WikiLeaks: Why Did Google Give FBI Private Staff Emails?

Google revealed that it gave the FBI emails and digital data of three of its employees under a secret search warrant issued by a federal judge. It took three years to disclose this information due to a “gagging order” it had been under. 

The Guardian reports:

WikiLeaks has written to Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, to protest that the search giant only revealed the warrants last month, having been served them in March 2012. In the letter, WikiLeaks says it is “astonished and disturbed” that Google waited more than two and a half years to notify its subscribers, potentially depriving them of their ability to protect their rights to “privacy, association and freedom from illegal searches”.

The letter, written by WikiLeaks’ New York-based lawyer, Michael Ratner of the Center For Constitutional Rights, asks Google to list all the materials it provided to the FBI. Ratner also asks whether the California-based company did anything to challenge the warrants and whether it has received any further data demands it has yet to divulge.

Google revealed to WikiLeaks on Christmas Eve – a traditionally quiet news period – that it had responded to a Justice Department order to hand over a catch-all dragnet of digital data including all emails and IP addresses relating to the three staffers. The subjects of the warrants were the investigations editor of WikiLeaks, the British citizen Sarah Harrison; the spokesperson for the organisation, Kristinn Hrafnsson; and Joseph Farrell, one of its senior editors.

When it notified the WikiLeaks employees last month, Google said it had been unable to say anything about the warrants earlier as a gag order had been imposed. Google said the non-disclosure orders had subsequently been lifted, though it did not specify when.

=Harrison, who also heads the Courage Foundation, told the Guardian she was distressed by the thought of government officials gaining access to her private emails. “Knowing that the FBI read the words I wrote to console my mother over a death in the family makes me feel sick,” she said.

She accused Google of helping the US government conceal “the invasion of privacy into a British journalist’s personal email address. Neither Google nor the US government are living up to their own laws or rhetoric in privacy or press protections”.

The court orders cast a data net so wide as to ensnare virtually all digital communications originating from or sent to the three. Google was told to hand over the contents of all their emails, including those sent and received, all draft correspondence and deleted emails. The source and destination addresses of each email, its date and time, and size and length were also included in the dragnet.

The FBI also demanded all records relating to the internet accounts used by the three, including telephone numbers and IP addresses, details of the time and duration of their online activities, and alternative email addresses. Even the credit card or bank account numbers associated with the accounts had to be revealed.