You’ve Got Mail: Judge Grants Feds Unrestricted Access To Gmail Account

In giving law enforcement unfettered access to search for “some needles” in one individual’s “computer haystack,” a judge fans the flames of the data debate.
By @katierucke |
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    Illustration by Anders Nienstaedt for MintPress News.

    Privacy advocates were dealt a major blow on July 18, when a federal judge in New York ruled that law enforcement has the legal authority to search the entire email account of an unnamed individual who police believe was involved in a money laundering scheme.

    Google is now legally required to hand over the entire contents of the unnamed individual’s Gmail account — including all emails sent, received and drafted, all contacts, and other information —  to federal prosecutors.

    In his 23-page ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein wrote that email accounts should be treated like hard drives when it comes to search and seizure principles. In other words, Gorenstein believes law enforcement should be able to go through an individual’s entire email account if prosecutors can demonstrate probable cause showing a “sufficient chance of finding some needles in the computer haystack.”

    “For example, in a drug investigation, it might be obvious based on information from an informant or other source that emails referring to the purchase or importation of ‘dolls’ refers to cocaine, but investigators might only learn as the investigation unfolds that a seemingly innocuous email referring to purchase of ‘potatoes’ also refers to a cocaine shipment,” the judge wrote.

    This decision is significant because U.S. courts have historically ruled against federal prosecutors’ requests to search an email account in order to find incriminating evidence, citing the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure.

    Given that there has been a rise in the number of requests from law enforcement officials in recent years for access to information hosted by companies such as Google and Yahoo, privacy advocates have expressed concern that this case may affect future money laundering and other financial crime cases, or even other types of crimes, as Gorenstein wrote in his ruling that those courts that did not rule in favor of law enforcement ignored all case law giving police the legal ability to comb through paper documents to determine whether a crime had been committed.

    Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Judge Gorenstein is essentially saying that the Fourth Amendment grants police officers legal room to search irrelevant data in order to find relevant data. But the problem many privacy advocates see with this interpretation, especially in the Digital Age, is that law enforcement is able to retain large amounts of data for an extended period of time.

    Gorenstein’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment is also shocking, given that just last month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police cannot just search an individual’s cellphone without first obtaining a warrant.

    “The Supreme Court’s decision reinforces the notion that digital data can’t be equated with physical items like papers because it contains so much more information, in terms of both volume and quality,” Fakhoury said. “When police enter a home to search for, say a shotgun, they can’t look at places where the weapon is unlikely to be found.

    “But these broad digital searches allow the government to search through everything because the government believes the evidence could be anywhere. So that’s problematic in my mind,” he said.

    Glenda Toma agrees. In a piece in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, she says that the “diminishment of digital privacy is a startling trend.”

    “When a warrant is authorized for a physical entity, such as a house or a car, there are stipulations as to what can be searched and where,” Toma pointed out. “It has been rare for a judge to grant a so-called general warrant, or the unrestricted permission to search and seize, since it potentially contravenes the Fourth Amendment. So why do these rules not apply to digital privacy?”

    In his ruling, Gorenstein did not outline a specific timeframe in which law enforcement officials would be able to search the individual’s emails, nor did the judge say how long law enforcement would have access to the email account — reasons why privacy advocates view this case as just one more reason why regulating digital privacy urgently needs to be addressed from a legal standpoint.

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    • Nathan Barton

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      • Switzerland will hand your companies rectum up to the American government at the drop of a hat!

        • You need to do some research. Switzerland has the strongest data privacy laws in the World bar none.

    • Brad B

      If he says email. What does that mean? In my email I have my dashboard. It is all locked. Do they demand access? How do they get the combination? The password? I do not have to tell them that. When they bust into a safe they don’t want your combination lock number they want something in your safe. What if they go into Google Play. Go into web history. Go deeper into other connections unrelated like Amazon or Monoprice. What if they access your Youtube account? What if you have emergency help access for a friends account? Can they go into your friends account? Like when roommates live together and police search one room they can search the other because it is deemed the same living space or can they?

      To Issue Search Warrants

      When magistrates issue a search warrant, they are giving a law enforcement officer authority to conduct a

      search to aid an official investigation. The officer seeking the search warrant must make a complaint,

      under oath, stating the purpose of the search to the magistrate. The complaint must be supported by a

      written affidavit from the officer. In issuing the search warrant, the magistrate must describe the place to

      be searched, the property or person to be searched, and state that the magistrate has found probable

      cause to believe that the property or person constitutes evidence of a crime or tends to show that a

      person has committed a crime.

    • Nicholas I

      Jew. Kew judge. Jew society. Jew “ethics”.

      • Guest

    • designer

      Oh well, if they have to look in my gmail account they might have a problem standing up from the table….

    • Ginger

      I completely believe in the need for Privacy, but like Facebook, Google is a THIRD PARTY. Anything you put on there, Google stores, and can have access to (baring their own internal policies and T&C’s). If you use any third party, they can sell your data. This includes your ISP (Internet Service Provider), Who by the way, is probably selling your URL behavior to Comscore for their online audience platform.

    • Andrew

      guys, if youve got nothing to hide why the whining, yes i beleive in privacy, but for the innocent. if a proven drug trafficier is off the streets and HIS emails are being scroutinized well happy days, maybe they can find a link to a higher drug cartel…. who knows. yes it open the doors to the privacy debate but the guilty criminals forfeit their privacy when entering i to the world of crimial acts. if they accessed a nun;s emails or someone with pure morality then there would be something to stand againist.

      • terru gd

        In the words of Ben Franklin “Those who would give up essential Liberty (privacy), to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” k I understand your argument but would u show everyone you know, all your internet search history? Like when you searched how to get rid of hemeroids after bending over for the feds and letting them have their way with you? The potential for abuse is too high.

        • ECnTX

          There seems to be an exaggeration in your statement: there is no mention in this article, nor in the related case, that would indicate the prosecution is seeking to comb through the defendant’s entire internet search history … just his emails. I’m not sure what constitutes “reasonable expectation of privacy” with respect to electronically broadcast communication; however, that notwithstanding, the article suggests all of this is predicated on the prosecution having obtained a legitimate search warrant. I see nothing here to indicate that this magistrate has ruled illegally obtained evidence, or unrelated articles found during the execution of a lawful search, to be admissible.

          What the NSA is doing is blatantly un-Constitutional, as they are conducting an on-going search of your truly personal information … not only without a warrant but without probable cause. All this magistrate has done is broaden the scope of what evidence, discovered during a lawful search, is or isn’t admissible. Without a doubt, counsel for the defense will, and by all means SHOULD, appeal this decision; otherwise, he/she is not properly representing his/her client.

      • Brad B

        I bet if I dug through your data files I would find enough information to send you to prison under current law.

        • LostInUnderland

          If that were true, I doubt he would advocate for transparency. Just because your data files are full of illicit material does not mean that everyone else’s is. I can confidently state that as far as I know there is nothing in any of my online communications or activities that break any law of which I am aware. There are, however, some embarrassing things I would rather not be made publicly known. If I were convicted of a crime, there are many things that I would rather not be made public that the court would have every right to make public in the course of a trial.

          • You say you’re not aware of any crimes you’ve committed online, but the government doesn’t care if you’re aware or not. If a pop-up took you to an underaged porn site, and you immediately closed the window, where’s that picture you saw for a brief moment? If you go into your temps and delete it, anyone using file recovery software could potentially easily recover it, or at least enough of the metadata from it to prove you had it.

            • LostInUnderland

              In 15 years of using the internet I have not ONCE seen under aged porn. That doesn’t happen by accident. People don’t just put illegal stuff out there to be accidentally found. Your straw man only exposes the reason for your fear.

              • KartofflMuter

                No pop up ever took me anywhere in 20 years except to sell me the same things I just bought. That’s the way it works. Targeted advertising. I don’t look at overage porn either. If I’m on ebay and the site suddenly says,”must be over 21 to view” I leave. I’m well over 21. I’m just not interested. My addiction is antiques.There. I feel better. Cleaner.I’ll slink away now and pray for Israel and Gaza.

              • Never used Usenet?

    • aqwassss

      This judge needs to be disbarred. Please (someone) report him for violations on ethical grounds.

      • aqwassss

        This (so called) judge is only a magistrate About the same as a dog catcher. He should not be allowed to make such decisions, Likewise any law enforcement that acts on this shysters advice should be charged with Civil Right violations. Meanwhile help yourself to writing his conduct report to the proper Board of responsibility.

        • Evan White

          : (

        • garystartswithg

          Do you remember back when Bush and Cheney started a war and everyone said they didn’t have the right, but they did anyway? Its a good old fashioned neo-con tactic of its easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Leo Strauss taught em well.

      • garystartswithg

        He will call you an anti-semite and send the adl after you.

        • Nicholas I

          He’ll get mossad scum or the “brave” idf scum to do what they do best.

    • Alan Hernandez

      I dont care what a corrupt liar in a black robe says!!!!

    • John Moore

      The comparison to a weapons search is stupid. In these cases they are looking for paper-trail evidence. If you are being investigated for some sort of fraud or money laundering, (which is what this case was) then I’m sorry, but I see very little difference between demanding access to all the company’s paperwork, books, and inter-office memorandum, and demanding access to the email accounts involved. And if you argue that they might happen across something different, that also happens already when they obtain a warrant for say, drugs, and when they make entry, they find twenty car stereos and 7 laptops, and realize that they’ve stumbled onto a car-burglary suspect instead.

    • sean parsley

      yes ok here goes===$$$$$====are there words between the line = what a false tatic=they hamus =they shoot first== came through the tunnels===money where from ???to build tunnels of course why they build the tunnels of course to attack ====did japan shoot first on peral harbour yes yes yes ==don’t you see they shoot down 50 soldiers also in a military plane andan other one= they made from money= funded to them == they got weapons too where from ??? who funded the money ==$$$$$===to hamus to build tunnels ====yes sirry =the king james bible is in English == the eliminaty controls the banks ==who give them the weapons of war=== yes == Russia got money from where ==don’t blame Russia =who made china ===$$$$$== == don’t blame= them =e= go back the king james bible who the king james of England ==jesus name is in English name not a Hebrew name the old Hebrew name == to the old translations== the ministers are false prohets and churches .do not tell the truth ==== you attackted Americas ==u have prison camps filled with native people==and give them a boozes bottle and drugs==you you you=and robbed them of the land u killed many native peoples by the gun and war fare== then I will send == a sound == and they shall hear it== how many people belong to the k.j. and the = dear old == rome == $$$$$$ ==

      • Liss

        Are you high or just generally incoherent?

    • BlueHooligan

      I don’t get it, was it a specific search warrant to one instance which can be repeated (this is nothing out of the ordinary, just a modern use of a long-time standing law), or an unrestricted legal precedent for the future? Please be more clear.

    • georgebeach

      F U

    • garystartswithg

      Gabriel Gorenstein — sounds kind of Zionist to me.

      • Liss

        Relevance to the issue?

        • garystartswithg

          Loyal to a country other than the USA, so he doesn’t care about 4th amendment rights.

          • Liss

            Having interest in another country does not mean that you want to disregard the Bill of Rights. Most people have another country they care for. It is not a Zionist issue, it’s a personal one.

        • Q

          As Gary said, it does matter significantly, sounds like the same people who own alot of American media and all of Hollywood, also American banks… Go figure.

          • Liss

            You can say Jews. Thinly veiling your bitterness doesn’t change what it means.

      • Nicholas I

        Vot!? Vot!? Oy vey, it’s just Gabe Gorenstein from da Bronx! You can trust him wid da passwords ta yer acounts. He won’t do anythin wrong. He’s just a good Jewish guy, a mensch. His parents sahvived Auschwitz, Belsen, Dachau, pogroms, and being kept outta a goyische golf club awreddy!

        • garystartswithg

          You say the blood of 200 dead palestinian infants, he says time to make the matzoh.

          • Nicholas I

            Ha ha! LOL(oco$t)! Yer killin me heah awreddy!

            • garystartswithg

              You got any idea how much worse Joan Rivers would look if she didn’t get those transfusions? They got vested interest in this season’s harvest. Someone’s got to keep telling racist jokes.

              • Nicholas I

                Jewboy Harrison Ford’s jowels’d be hangin down past his ballsac by now without the injections.

                • garystartswithg

                  Maybe we can get Mel Gibson to make some more softcore gay porn too. Jesus should always be an Italian with ripped abs. Ripped abs and you are on adl’s naughty list. How are you going to make the big nosed 1/2 wienered pharisees and sadducees look good with a hot Italian Jesus stud around? You can’t. We can win this, where is Mel?

                  • Nicholas I

                    Imagine if Woody Allen and Roman Polanski made a queer geriatric porn flick together. Wouldn’t that do wonders for The Jew’s image? At least some kids would be safe for a while.

          • Nicholas I

            “Jew” starts with “K”.

      • Nicholas I

        Sounds like he’s been genitally mutilated, and it messed with his head.

      • Nicholas I

        Sounds like his mom was an overbearing control-freak bitch who called beautiful Aryan women “shiksahs”, with envious venom in her voice.

      • Nicholas I

        Sounds like his parents were fortunate enough to have been granted free vocational training by a wonderful German government.

      • Nicholas I

        Sounds like his emails could be full of false flag terror plots designed to trick the “goyim” into fighting wars for his tribe.