Google and Warrants

It's become fashionable of late to beat up on Google and wonder aloud what happened to their celebrated “Don't be evil” motto. Google provides a slew of useful services and the price we pay is to have our digital existences vacuumed up and sold to advertisers1.

We here at Irreal delight in being contrarian so I'd like to send a little praise Google's way. Google has, for some time, published periodic Transparency Reports in which they list government (all governments) requests for user information and how they responded to those requests.

Here in the U.S., we have a constitutionally dubious device known as the ECPA subpoena that is much easier to obtain than the normal search warrant. Google has announced that they will no longer comply with such subpoenas and will, instead, require a warrant. This is a bit of a gutsy move because the ECPA is, after all, the law and by defying the subpoenas, Google is inviting a very one sided battle with the U.S. Department of Justice. In a recent SANS Institute News Bites newsletter2, William Hugh Murray notes

That the government has not hauled Google into court when it pushes
back suggests that, not only does it fear an adverse ruling, it fears
the light of day. Use and abuse of the Internet by government will
clearly get much worse before it gets better. There are now so many
exceptions to the Fourth Amendment that it operates only by accident.

Given what's at stake and the risks involved I think we all owe Google a word of thanks. So, Google, good on you!


1 Yes, that's a little hyperbolic but only a little.

2 SANS NewsBites Vol. 15 Num. 007

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