28 Jan

If you think that privacy rights protect you from criminal prosecution for the things you do in your own home, to a certain extent, you are wrong. If you are caught downloading child pornography or have unintentionally downloaded child porn that alerted a federal agency, you may find yourself at the center of a criminal investigation and the recipient of a legal request to confiscate your computer.

It should also come as no surprise that Google tracks and stores a great deal of information about every person who uses its search engine, information that, from time to time, the federal government wants to get its hands on. Google’s own Chief Legal Officer noted that, “[W]e 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.”

So when does Google give out your personal information?

In the last 6 months of 2012, Google received over 8,000 requests for information from U.S. authorities. Google uses the following process to respond to these requests:

  • Formal requirements: Was the request in writing? Is it a legal request? Is it signed by someone with legal authority to make such a request?
  • What’s requested: How broad is the request? Can a narrower request accomplish the government’s needs?
  • User notification: Unless it doesn’t have a user’s contact information or unless it is prohibited by law from doing so, Google will tell the person who is the subject of a government request that specific internet records have been requested

Google says that it only complies with a request for documentation in a criminal investigation if it received a search warrant.

If you have been notified by Google that it has received a request for your Gmail, Google+, Google search, Google docs or other online content, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney right away. Whether the request related to allegations of sex crimes like the illegal download of pornography, financial or white collar crimes or some other criminal matter, you deserve someone on your side, fighting for your legal rights.

Source: CNET, “Google: Here’s how we handle government requests about you,” January 28, 2013