Court documents reveal Google’s data war with US government

15 Sep 2017

Image: Alex Staroseltsev/Shutterstock

Has Google backed down from challenging US judges?

Previously unreleased court documents show that Google has stopped challenging most government requests to hand over data from its servers overseas.

Politico reported that this comes as the US supreme court is preparing its decision on whether laws permit US authorities to use the court system to gain electronic records from outside of the country.

Judge Beryl Howell rejected Google’s challenge to a search warrant, and agreed to hold the company in contempt for flouting her order – fining it $10,000 daily – but this was suspended, pending an appeal from Google.

That influential Microsoft judgement

The challenges against US data search warrants began in earnest in July 2016 after a federal appeals court found in favour of Microsoft in an unprecedented challenge. The company had argued that the US search-and-seizure law was not applicable to email stored on servers here in Ireland.

Following the Microsoft judgement, courts outside the second circuit court of appeals in the US that were not bound by the ruling began dismissing new challenges, including Google’s.

The Department of Justice sent a document to the supreme court, stating: “Google has reversed its previous stance and informed the government that it will comply with new Section 2703 warrants outside the second circuit (while suggesting that it will appeal the adverse decisions in one or more existing cases).”

Google responds

Google told Ars Technica that it supported the original verdict settled on during the Microsoft case, saying: “We’re continuing to follow the second circuit court of appeals’ decision and will decline to produce data stored overseas in courts that fall within that circuit.

“To seek consistency in the law, we are appealing some of the cases where lower courts have decided not to follow the ruling of the second circuit court of appeals.”

It went on to emphasise the importance of user privacy as a core company tenet, and the need for an overhaul of data surveillance laws in a broader sense.

“This discrepancy in court decisions is yet another reminder that data surveillance laws need to be modernised to safeguard users’ privacy, protect law enforcement’s legitimate need to collect digital evidence and provide clarity.

“We are pleased that both houses of Congress have introduced bills that address these issues.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects