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Google Handed Over WikiLeaks Emails To NSA

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

Google has notified three members of the WikiLeaks staff (Sarah Harrison, Kristinn Hrafnsson and Joseph Farrell) that it handed over their emails to the NSA in response to a court order. The transfer of the emails was a part of a wider investigation against the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who has been staying at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since mid-2012. And although the search engine giant handed over the emails to the US government in April’ 2012, it waited for more than two and a half years before disclosing this information to the owners of the accounts.

As per the documents made public by Google, the company handed over the information to the government in response to the warrants issued by the Virginia District Court magistrate John F. Anderson. The US government had charged Julian Assange (as well as several other members of the WikiLeaks staff) with espionage, computer fraud, conspiracy and theft of US government property soon after the whistleblower decided to release its cache of data in the public domain. The court ruled in the government’s favor and ordered the internet giant to hand over emails of the said staff to the intelligence agencies.

As per the court order, Google was told to hand over the content of all the emails sent or received by the three journalists. Additionally, the company was asked to furnish the metadata information (including to and from address, data and time, length and size) about each email that was sent or received by them. What’s more, FBI even asked for records related to the internet use by the journalists (including IP addresses, time and duration of internet access) as well as information about alternative email addresses and bank account numbers and credit cards associated with the internet accounts held by them.

While Google did not reveal the exact list of documents that it provided to the government, it did inform the journalists that it handed over only those documents that were pursuant to Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The company defended its actions by saying that it follows the law just like other companies and verifies all the court orders before complying with them. Google’s spokesperson also said that the company has a reputation of acting on behalf of its users. While the company declined to reveal more information about this specific case, the company admitted that it could not inform the users earlier since there was a gag order imposed on it.

WikiLeaks is naturally upset about the information released by Google. In a letter addressed to the search giant, the non-profit organization noted that the actions of the company are markedly different from other Silicon Valley corporations like Twitter. Unlike Google, Twitter fought against the court order which directed it to hand over information about Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of parliament from Iceland and a WikiLeaks volunteer, to the U.S. government without a search warrant. Journalists and activities who rely on Google’s products to share anti-government information would now find it very difficult to trust the company in light of the WikiLeaks revelations.

April 4, 2015

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