A dragnet of information requests from the Department of Justice to Google forced the Internet giant, Google, to hand over all emails and other digital data belonging to three wikileaks journalist staffers. The subjects of the warrants were the investigations editor of WikiLeaks, the British citizen Sarah Harrison; the spokesperson for the organization, Kristinn Hrafnsson; and Joseph Farrell, one of its senior editors.
Google was just now allowed to reveal the requests, three years after the initial requests because of the conditions imposed from the secret search warrant which had a gag order not to reveal this for three years after the fact as issued by a federal judge.
Because of the conditions of the gag order, Google claimed they had been unable to say anything about the warrants earlier and was only just now allowed to reveal to WikiLeaks on Christmas Eve 2014, that it had responded to a Justice Department order to hand over a catch-all dragnet of digital data including all emails and IP addresses relating to the three wikileaks staffers.
It was also revealed that the FBI also demanded all records relating to the internet accounts used by the three, including telephone numbers and IP addresses, details of the time and duration of their online activities, and alternative email addresses. Even the credit card or bank account numbers associated with the accounts had to be revealed.
A letter, written by WikiLeaks’ New York-based lawyer, Michael Ratner of the Center For Constitutional Rights, asks Google to list all the materials it provided to the FBI and asked whether Google did anything to challenge the warrants and if they have received any further data demands it has not yet divulged.
Although, Google has not revealed exactly which documents it handed over by the deadline detailed in the warrant, of April 2012. Google has informed the three individuals that it provided
“responsive documents pursuant to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act”
The warrants were issued by a federal judge in the eastern district of Virginia where a grand jury was set up for the criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. The investigation which has been active and ongoing as recently as May last year.
The ongoing criminal investigation into WikiLeaks that was originally launched in 2010 jointly by the US departments of Justice, Defense and State. Which followed WikiLeaks’ publication, initially in participation with international news organizations including the Guardian, of a vast amount of US secrets that had been passed to the organization by the army private Chelsea Manning.
The leaked documents included embassy cables, war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, and most notably a video of an Apache helicopter attack that killed civilians in Baghdad.
The WikiLeaks warrants used to force Google to surrender the Journalist information and put a three year gag order on Google cite alleged violations of the 1917 Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Ironically, the same statutes used to prosecute Manning. The data seizures were approved by a federal magistrate judge, John Anderson, who a year later issued the arrest warrant for the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Now all the major tech companies may disclose how many requests they receive from US authorities for users’ information but it is extremely rare for them to divulge specific targets of those investigations and in most cases they are limited in what they can disclose.
Incidently the first six months of 2014, Google received close to 32,000 data requests from governments, an increase of 15% compared with the second half of 2013, and two-and-a-half times more than when Google first started publishing it’s semi-annual Transparency Report, in 2009.