As reported earlier this week, WikiLeaks blasted Google for taking almost three years to notify staffers that they had provided information to the U.S. attorney’s office. The information given to the U.S. attorney’s office was concerning three WikiLeaks staffers. WikiLeaks alleges that Google failed to stand up for their staffers and took too long to notify their staffers that they (Google) had provided U.S. authorities with the contents of emails, search records, metadata and other content. WikiLeaks felt that since Twitter was able to argue in court to allow the persons involved in the warrant to be notified, that Google should have done the same to protect their customers right to privacy and freedom of association.
According to an interview with Google’s attorney by the Washington Post (source link below), Google has answered to the allegations rose by WikiLeaks and stated why it took them so long to notify their customers that their records and information had been given to law enforcement and the U.S. attorney’s office. According to Albert Gidari, Google’s attorney, they were not permitted to inform the WikiLeaks journalist that they were the source of an investigation because they were under a gag order to not disclose information. He argues that Google did make an attempt to have the gag order reversed to allow disclosure to their customers. Gidari further stated that Google has challenged gag orders for every request of information concerning WikiLeaks, as well as any order by any agency that contains indefinite time periods.
This is the issue that faces tech firms going forward. As keepers of data, they have a moral obligation to protect their client’s data and privacy. Customers trust these firms with their most intimate and personal information with the assumption that these companies will exercise a reasonable amount effort to keep that data from the hands of those that were not intended to see it. However, these companies must comply with the law. If the law does not allow for disclosure of information pertaining to a warrant or investigation to a client, the company must follow that order. This was the situation that Google faced. And at least according to Google, they made every attempt to legally inform WikiLeaks that their data had been given to agencies so that these people could mount a proper defense and protect their civil liberties. But the need to protect civil liberties has to be balanced with the need to provide law enforcement a reasonable and appropriate amount of information when it applies to a narrow and legal request for a specific person or persons for the purpose of protecting the public. This case and many like it will be the proving grounds for things to come. Do you feel that Google should have been allowed to inform their customers that their information was surrendered to the U.S. attorney’s office? Let us know in the comment section below.