As you scroll through your Gmail inbox, you see an email with a strange subject line. Letter. A string of numbers followed by a “Not Notice from Google”.
This may seem like a phishing scam or an upgrade to Gmail. But it may be the only chance you will have to stop Google from sharing your personal information with the authorities.
Tech companies that have personal information treasures have become the natural target of lawsuits by law enforcement agencies and the government. The biggest names in the industry, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter և LinkedIn, receive data requests, from lawsuits to National Security letters, among other efforts to criminal, non-criminal investigations, as well as lawsuits. to support.
Such e-mails are rarely an opportunity for users to find out when government agencies are searching for their data.
In the case of Google, the company usually tells users that the agency is looking for their information.
In an e-mail surveyed by the Los Angeles Times, Google informed the recipient that the company had received a request from the Department of Homeland Security for information about their Google Account. (Recipient shared the email on condition of anonymity due to immigration concerns.) This account can be attached to Gmail, YouTube, Google Photos, Google Pay, Google Calendar և Other Services և apps.
An email from Google’s Legal Investigation Support Team notifies the recipient that Google may transfer personal information to DHS until it has received a copy of the petition to have the claim annulled within seven days.
That’s a high point in the short term, says Paromita Shah, co-founder and executive director of Just Futures Immigration Law Office.
“What Google expects from you is that it has rejected the lawsuit, it requires you to go to federal court,” Shah said. “I would like to know how many people will have the resources; he understands that they only have seven days to hire a lawyer to cancel the ICE lawsuit in federal court.”
Google email does not contain a copy of the legal claim. The recipient asked for it and learned that it was an administrative lawsuit filed by the U.S. Immigration Service. ICE searched for names, email addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses, street addresses, length of service, such as launch date, and sources of payment that were somehow linked to a Google Account.
Such requests are not uncommon for Google. From January 2020 to June 2020, Google received nearly 40,000 requests for user information from law enforcement, with more than 15,500 filing lawsuits, according to the annual Transparency Report. Google provided “some data” from the lawsuits in 83% of cases. For the same period, Facebook received more than 60,000 queries, producing some data in 88% of cases. Twitter has received more than 3,000 requests, noting that it has 59% compliance level.
While companies may feel limited in their ability to reject court-appointed lawsuits, Shah գ immigration advocates argue that the technology industry has much more freedom to hold user information in response to unsolicited lawsuits.
In a statement, Google spokesman Alex Krasov said the company was “vigorously” protecting users’ privacy “while supporting law enforcement.”
“We have a well-established process for managing requests from law enforcement for data on our users. Upon receipt of a request, we inform users that their information has been requested, and excessive requirements are pushed back to protect and secure the privacy of users. “Transparency in our Transparency Report on such demands,” the statement said.
Litigation is one of a series of legal processes that law enforcement agencies use to obtain information from users, sometimes in connection with criminal or other investigations. Many of these requests come with absurd orders, leaving users in the dark for at least a year after requesting them. Others give users little time or information to protect their data.
Law enforcement can obtain user information through other means. Some companies sell user information to data brokers, who in turn sell the information to, for example, law enforcement. They are all part of a system that has become available to law enforcement as a by-product of technology companies’ reliance on the business model of collecting, storing and selling personal data, as well as the often unconditional willingness of users to transfer their data.
Administrative lawsuits, such as those received by a Google user, differ from warranties or court-ordered lawsuits depending on the type of information they seek. The administrative lawsuit is not subject to self-government. Means that it is simply a legal requirement և can usually be enforced by ICE or another issuing agency in court if the recipient does not comply. It was also not signed by the judge and the agency was not required to indicate the probable cause. In contrast to the judgment, the administrative lawsuit only allows the authorities to search for the subscriber’s basic information, such as the IP address ը the validity period of the account.
Some civil rights աբանական legal groups are concerned that federal agencies such as ICE may use legal processes, such as administrative lawsuits, to gain access to user information to extend control over U.S. residents.
At the request for freedom of information, the coalition of groups asked ICE how many of these inquiries it had sent to Google, Facebook and Twitter, noting that these platforms “contain large amounts of personal information about their users, including real-time location, address ի contact information “.
“ICE administrative sub-lawsuits to technology companies for intrusion into the most intimate, personal information of our daily lives, such as location, address, communication,” said Boston University School of Law Immigrant և Human Trafficking Program. : , says Just Futures Law և Mijente Support Committee.
An ICE official said the agency does not regularly file administrative lawsuits against technology companies for non-criminal, civil immigration purposes. The agency noted the previous use of administrative lawsuits to force the New York City Department of Sanctions to control community control in a city whose sanction laws prohibit agencies from assisting federal deportation efforts to provide ICE with information about individuals.
In a statement on the use of administrative lawsuits, ICE said it was using “legally authorized immigration lawsuits to obtain information as part of an investigation into potentially moving aliens”.
Critics say they are concerned about how difficult it is for users whose information is the subject of administrative lawsuits to stop companies such as Google from sharing it.
“Google finds it difficult to refuse because they put the burden on a person to apply for a quota,” he said. “And that’s very typical of corporations. It’s really hard for users to give up anything unless you take extra steps or go to special portals to give up. ”
In a letter to Kent Walker, Google’s chief legal officer, the Coalition for Immigrant Rights argues that the company should not provide any information unless ICE’s lawsuit is being pursued, reviewing its policy so that “the subscriber has the opportunity to to be heard. ” Google did not answer specific questions about whether the company would reconsider its policy.
“Providing information to ICE can cause irreparable harm, as ICE uses such information to carry out house-to-house attacks, detain citizens, deport individuals, their families, and divide communities,” writes Immigrant Legal Rights, Mijente. Just Futures Law ասում says a number of universities in immigration law clinics.
Although ICE’s use of this non-judicial process has raised concerns among those who believe it has been used to “mess up” its legal weight, administrative lawsuits are in fact one of the most transparent means by which law enforcement can have requested information from users of technology companies.
This is partly because such requests do not come unilaterally from order to order.
The agency would have to go to court for an arrogant order, a move that could lead to an administrative lawsuit, which is a low-cost tool because it does not require a lawsuit and faces challenges, said Andrew Crocker, an advocate for the Electronic Frontier Foundation staff.
(Authorities may request in their administrative claims, as ICE did in this case, that the company not share information with the user, but that is just a request).
On the other hand, other lawsuits related to law enforcement, including letters of recommendation և National Security Letters, often clash with the order, as informing the user may impede the investigation.
In these cases, the user is not notified. Crocker says the National Security Letters, a type of administrative lawsuit filed by the FBI, have an implicit decree that needs to be reviewed twice during the investigation. Examples published by Google show one National Security Letter to the company in July 2016, published only last month, and another, released in March 2020, in February. In both cases, the customer whose information was required would have no idea that it would be delivered until it was identified.
Therefore, for providers like Google, it could act as a check on law enforcement, Crocker said.
“Otherwise you just do not know what process is used to store private items,” he said. “When you compare it to a real-life incident, if the police want to search your house, they have to get a certificate, and then they break down or knock on the door. But you know they’re in your house, and then they’re really required to give you a list of what they’re taking. “
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.