A U.S. magistrate ruled this past Friday that Google has to comply with FBI search warrants seeking customer emails stored on their company servers located outside of the USA, despite a prior court ruling in July of 2016 stating that the government is not allowed to access Microsoft’s data outside of U.S. boundaries.
U.S. magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter in Philadelphia had stated that transferring data from outside servers — so the FBI could read them locally as part of a domestic fraud probe — would not qualify as a seizure due to there being “no meaningful interference” with the account holder’s “possessory interest” in the data which they are seeking.
“Google regularly transfers user data from one data center to another without the customer’s knowledge,” said Rueter. “Such transfers do not interfere with the customer’s access or possessory interest in the user data. Even if the transfer interferes with the account owner’s control over his information, this interference is de minimis [minimal] and temporary.”
Here, Rueter conflates Google’s transfer of data to different data banks with the intrusiveness of government’s access to said data, while also noting the possibility that the government may have some temporary control over the account owner’s private information.
In August of 2016 Google was ordered to comply with two other FBI search warrants which related to criminal investigations. However, Google only provided the data stored on their U.S. servers. When Google had referred to last year’s ruling — a US Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which favored Microsoft — the Judge had said Google was found processing its data stored abroad in a way that made it impossible for the U.S. government to be able to gain legal assistance from a foreign state.
However, Google has made it incredibly clear that should a search warrant be granted, that they can give the government access to email content, while subpoenas and court orders only let them access non-content data. Non-content data would include assets like an account creation number, phone number, or an IP address used to sign on.
Google receives over 25,000 requests every year from US authorities in regards to disclosures of user data for criminal matters. Google is understandably upset about the ruling and does intend to fight back against it.
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