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Google gives personal data to US govt without a court order

October 17, 2011 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: data security, Google, internet, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Gmail users got another reminder that Google’s personal data policies are suspect when it was revealed that Google handed over one user’s private data to the U.S. government- who had asked for it without a court order.Google gives personal data to US govt without a court orderThe contacts list and IP address data of Jacob Appelbaum, a WikiLeaks volunteer and developer for Tor was given to the U.S. government after they requested it using a secret court order enabled by a controversial 1986 law called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The law allows the government to demand information from ISPs not only without a warrant, but without ever notifying the user.

Sonic.net, a smaller ISP who was also asked to hand over data related Appelbaum, tried to challenge the order in court, but ultimately lost and was to give up the information. It’s not known if Google resisted the request, but both companies did try to ensure that Appelbaum could at least be made aware of the data retrieval.

According to the company’s own Transparency Report, Google received 4,601 user data requests from the U.S. government in the second half of 2010, and it complied with 94% of them.

Those requests include warrantless inquiries as well as those accompanied by a search warrant.

The idea of an ISP handing over user data to governments without the aid of a search warrant has some troubling implications for privacy advocates and civil liberties proponents.

In the WikiLeaks case, the line between advocates and participants in the transfer of data can sometimes be blurry. If in its ongoing investigation into WikiLeaks the U.S. Department of Justice is free to ask Google, Twitter or Facebook for private data without users’ knowledge, who’s to say they can’t access private information about people who have merely expressed sympathy for the organization?

Tech companies haven’t necessarily rolled over and played along with the issue.

When the Department of Justice made a similar WikiLeaks-related request of Twitter in December, the company succeeded in having the order unsealed, meaning it was at least able to notify users about the request.

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