Google has said it will appeal a court order to assist US law enforcement by handing foreign emails over to the Federal Bureau of Investigations in a case that could threaten the privacy of the company’s users both within and outside the US.
The push back comes after a US court ordered Google to comply with search warrants for messages stored outside of the country in a domestic fraud case.
“Though the retrieval of the electronic data by Google from its multiple data centres abroad has the potential for an invasion of privacy, the actual infringement of privacy occurs at the time of disclosure in the United States,” said Thomas Rueter, a US magistrate judge in Philadelphia.
This means that Google passing information from Gmail accounts that is kept abroad over to the US wouldn’t constitute a seizure.
In response, Google said it would appeal the decision. “The magistrate in this case departed from precedent, and we plan to appeal the decision. We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants,” it said in a statement.
It isn’t the first time that a technology giant has fought to protect its users’ information in court. The ruling contradicts a similar case last year in which a judge threw out a request request for Microsoft to pass emails stored in Dublin to US law enforcement as part of a narcotics investigation.
The more recent decision against Google comes as a blow to technology companies and privacy campaigners who hailed the Microsoft decision as a victory for the protection of users’ information.
Google receives more than 25,000 requests a year to turn personal data over to law enforcement for criminal cases, according to the lawsuit. The company said it complies with warrants where it knows the data requested is stored in the US.
If the ruling is upheld it could cover both US and non-US citizens’ information, casting doubt on the strength of international treaties that safeguard the data protection of non-US citizens. Google said it sometimes breaks the contents of messages up and stores them around the world to improve performance. It said it doesn’t always know where emails are stored.