Google: Stronger than most but not above the law

This blog post was published earlier today on the Platformation blog.

Google proves once again that although it maybe the force that drives our online experience it is still not above the law.  In a recent, shocking turn of events Read, Write, Web reported that Google handed over the the contacts list and IP address data of Jacob Appelbaum, an independent computer security expert, University of Washington Professor, and a core member of the Tor Project.  

The Tor Project is a system that conceals online activity such as website visits and online communications by masking it through a network of volunteer network servers.  

In addition to his work with Tor, Applebaum was also publicly outed as a volunteer of Wikileaks in April 2010 and began speaking on behalf of the organization.  According to the Wall Street Journal, first obtained court orders for Appelbaum’s online activity on December 14th, 2010 when Twitter received a court order for information from his Twitter account.  Not a stranger to the attention of American Judicial system it is unsurprising that his other online activity was being demanded by the US Government.

Although the release of this information comes across as shocking the Wall Street Journal also reported that The Electronic Communications Privacy Act a piece of legislation developed before the Internet was used to obtain the court orders.  The US is not the only country that needs to worry about online privacy violations. www.openmedia.ca is fighting against the ‘Lawful Access Legislation’ a set of laws that would force ISPs to assist in investigations by sharing users personal information.  Canadians can learn more and support the movement by visiting: openmedia.ca/stopspying/resources.

In an attempt to keep all requests and compliances for information public Google created a transparency report: www.google.com/transparencyreport a set of online reports sharing the number of requests  made as part of criminal investigations.  According to Google this number increases with time as they expand their product line.  Between July to December 2010 thirty-eight data requests have been made and Google has a partial/full compliance rate of 55%.  Each case is considered independently and when appropriate Google will deny access to the information and ‘narrow the request’.

This is an issue that we need to keep abreast of and organizations such as openmedia and privacy leaders such as Micheal Geist when navigating the ever-changing terrin of online privacy.