When it comes to cloud data, Google tells the Feds to come back with a warrant

Google's latest transparency report reveals that the company has refused to turn over stored email to law enforcement unless a warrant is presented. The ancient Electronic Communications Privacy Act assumes that any file stored on a server for more than six months is abandoned and can be requested without a warrant, and Congress has refused to modernize this law for the age of Gmail and cloud storage (law enforcement agencies love the fact that most of your life can be fetched without having to show cause to a judge).

Google has refused to comply with warrantless requests for its users' stored cloud data, and instead demands that law enforcement officers get a warrant.

Google demands probable-cause, court-issued warrants to divulge the contents of Gmail and other cloud-stored documents to authorities in the United States — a startling revelation Wednesday that runs counter to federal law that does not always demand warrants.

The development surfaced as Google publicly announced that more than two-thirds of the user data Google forwards to government agencies across the United States is handed over without a probable-cause warrant.

A Google spokesman told Wired that the media giant demands that government agencies — from the locals to the feds — get a probable-cause warrant for content on its e-mail, Google Drive cloud storage and other platforms — despite the Electronic Communications Privacy Act allowing the government to access such customer data without a warrant if it’s stored on Google’s servers for more than 180 days.

“Google requires an ECPA search warrant for contents of Gmail and other services based on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents unreasonable search and seizure,” Chris Gaither, a Google spokesman, said.

I can't stress how exciting a development this is. Google has historically reserved the right to give docs to law enforcement without a warrant in its terms of service. Indeed, a group of authors asked the court to block the Google Books Settlement unless Google promised not to hand over your reading habits without a warrant. Google refused to do so. It would be wonderful to see Google enshrine "Come back with a warrant" in its terms of service, making it a promise and not just a habit.

Google Tells Cops to Get Warrants for User E-Mail, Cloud Data [Wired/David Kravets]


  1. The ball is now in the government’s court. Will they be willing to sue Google to make them comply? I would think they wouldn’t since it would re-publicize the effects of this dreadful law and other types of warrantless searches. If more people knew about this law, there would be an enormous amount of criticism directed at the government. But if Google thumbs its nose at the government, others will follow.

    Both Google and the government know this law is unconstitutional. The government felt that it could intimidate companies to get compliance. Obviously that tactic has now failed. The ability of the government to search through private files at will may be rapidly eroding.

    1. That would be bad because google’s push for the cloud will basically hit a huge frakking roadblock if all your data can be compelled out of them no warrent needed just ‘oh hey we’re taking that now./

      1. I think perhaps you misunderstand. The government already *could* do all of that. It hasn’t slowed gmail down yet. Rather, this is the first time Google *refused* to comply with a no-warrant request to turn data over. 

  2. This is complete bullshit. The feds already have all the data. This is just a dog and pony show so that they can pretend that they don’t. Any belief that they can’t get whatever they want whenever they want denotes either willful ignorance or jaw dropping stupidity.  

    1. $23 on Amazon…


    2. I sure don’t; it’d be like tattooing “come and get me copper” on my forehead.

      However, I really really want that lovely mosaic tile floor.

      Warrants are something of a joke.  When was the last time law enforcement had any real difficulty getting a warrant for anything?  The cops know which judges to ask.

    3. Don’t bother, it fades out after a couple of months and is just a blank doormat now.

      That’s probably a metaphor or something.

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