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September 15, 2017

Has Google started handing over your data to US Judges?

It doesn't matter where your data is stored, just where it is accessed from.

By James Nunns

Google has seemingly backed down from challenging most search warrants from US judges when it applies to data that is stored in overseas servers.

The Justice Department filing to the Supreme Court revealed that the search giant has “informed the government that it will comply with new Section 2703 warrants,” this is the Stored Communications Act.

Earlier in the year Google had opted to fight a court decision that sought to make it comply with search warrants that sought customer emails stored outside the US, with Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter in Philadelphia saying: “Google regularly transfers

user data from one data center to another without the customer’s knowledge. Such transfers do not interfere with the customer’s access or possessory interest in the user data. Even if the transfer interferes with the account owner’s control over his information, this interference is de minimis and temporary.”

A Google spokesperson at the time said: “The magistrate in this case departed from precedent, and we plan to appeal the decision. We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants.”

The whole issue was brought to light after Microsoft won a case where it convinced a 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals that it shouldn’t be forced to hand over data which is stored on its servers abroad, in this case Ireland.

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Unfortunately for Google, courts in the rest of the country aren’t bound by this ruling and the search giant has changed its position.

In a document shared by ArsTechnica the position is made clear: “In the wake of those decisions, Google has reversed its previous stance and informed the government that it will comply with new Section 2703 warrants outside the Second Circuit (while suggesting that it will appeal the adverse decisions in one or more existing cases). Consequently, the government’s ability to use Section 2703 warrants to obtain communications stored abroad – which may contain evidence critical to criminal or national-security investigations – now varies depending on the jurisdiction and the identity of the provider.”

The US government has made it clear that it only cares about the location from where data is extracted – not where it is stored.

Google told Ars in a statement: “We’re continuing to follow the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision and will decline to produce data stored overseas in courts that fall within that circuit.

“To seek consistency in the law, we are appealing some of the cases where lower courts have decided not to follow the ruling of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. This discrepancy in court decisions is yet another reminder that data surveillance laws need to be modernized to safeguard users’ privacy, protect law enforcement’s legitimate need to collect digital evidence, and provide clarity. We are pleased that both houses of Congress have introduced bills that address these issues.”


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