Google pledges fight over government access to users' email

Mon Jan 28, 2013 6:46pm EST
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Google will lobby Washington in 2013 to make it harder for law enforcement authorities to gain access to emails and other digital messages.

In a blog post on Monday, linked to Data Privacy Day, Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the tech giant, in coalition with many other powerful tech companies, will try to convince Congress to update a 1986 privacy protection law.

He cited data showing that government requests for Google's user data increased more than 70 percent since 2009.

In 2012, Google said, it received 16,407 requests for user data affecting 31,072 users or accounts, more than half of them accompanied by a subpoena.

"We're a law-abiding company, and we don't want our services to be used in harmful ways. But it's just as important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information," Drummond said in the post.

The U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in the early days of the Internet, does not require government investigators to have a search warrant when requesting access to old emails and messages that are stored online, providing less protection for them than, say, letters stored in a desk drawer or even messages saved on a computer's hard drive.

The current system also makes complex distinctions, many disputed in courts, between emails saved as drafts online, in transit, unopened or opened. Some of them are to be released with subpoenas, which have a lower threshold than search warrants as they often do not involve a judge.

A warrant is generally approved by a judge if investigators have "probable cause" to believe that their search is likely to turn up information related to a crime.

Google, Microsoft Corp, Yahoo and popular social media site Twitter - among others - have resisted turning over customer data.   Continued...

A neon Google logo is seen as employees work at the new Google office in Toronto, November 13, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch