Friday, 17 February 2017
Court Ruling Jeopardises Google Customer Email
Microsoft won an important court case in 2017 in which it was cleared of having to turn over user data stored on servers in Ireland. It was believed that one more similar ruling would, once and for all, answer the question of whether US government officials could access private data stored on foreign servers. Many thought a Google case in the pipeline would provide that decision. Unfortunately, just the opposite occurred.
Google was simply ordered by a federal court in Pennsylvania to comply with FBI demands to relocate customer e-mails from servers in Ireland to the company's central server in California. The judge who issued the ruling, Thomas J Reuter of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled that the FBI transfer order did not violate privacy laws because no private information will be disclosed in the transfer. Furthermore, Reuter stated that Google regularly transfers data between international servers without customers knowing it.
Here lies the problem: once the e-mails are transferred to US-based servers, the FBI will be within its legal authority to subpoena those e-mails on any number of grounds. Google's position is that the transfer order, though not a direct breach of privacy, is simply a precursor to what the FBI really intends to do – subpoena the data
Courts have typically been in favour of protecting consumer privacy against the prying eyes of government law enforcement agencies. Protecting individual privacy is one of the motivations behind so many European governments demanding that data belonging to nationals be stored on European servers. This most recent ruling jeopardises that strategy.
If US courts can successfully order American technology companies to transfer data stored elsewhere back into the United States, any pretence of privacy and security is just an illusion. Once data is back in the US, the FBI, NSA and local and state law enforcement agencies can access it with the mere formality of a subpoena.
This latest decision will undoubtedly be appealed even as dozens of other court cases are still pending. The question over data security and foreign countries is far from being decided, so affected consumers will have to wait to see how it all plays out.
The issue before us right now is whether the recent court decision should be concerning. In a word: yes. The US has been progressively asserting itself and its belief that it has the right to any and all data produced by companies who do business on American soil. Where will it end?
World leaders are expressing a tremendous amount of angst over the populism emerging in the West. This latest court decision is a perfect example of why populism is growing. The ruling is a direct result of the notion of globalism. If we want to be a single global community, we cannot expect courts to recognise international boundaries. Perhaps we should be careful about what we wish for?