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google hands wikileaks volunteer’s gmail data to u.s. government

October 11, 2011

This story reminds me of something I wrote last month: “[The use of digital/social media by activists] brings up issues from censorship to the security of the people who are trying to organize (e.g., the ability of corporate interests to reveal names, locations and correspondences of activists to governments) to whether the internet and certain online services should be regarded as part of the commons since they’re fast becoming an integral part of how we communicate and function as a society. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” ‘Don’t be evil’ my ass.

To be fair to Google, however, they were merely complying with a 1986 law enacted by Congress; and they’re one of the companies actively trying to get Congress to revise the law in order to require more search warrants. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean I think it’s kosher for Google to do whatever the government asks it to. Not only do I feel that the law itself is unjust as it stands, but I think that Google has a moral responsibility (because corporations are people, right?) to not comply if they’re against the law ethically, morally, etc. There’s nothing preventing Google from participating in an act of civil disobedience by simply not turning over private information to the government. By their own admission, they’ve complied with 94% of the 4,601 requests they’ve received, which makes me wonder how they got out of the other 6%.

Furthermore, according to another article by the Wall Street Journal, Google says that they “pressed for the right inform Mr. Appelbaum,” but it isn’t clear exactly what that means. How hard did they ‘press,’ for example? It seems that Twitter managed to successfully challenge a similar order and at least won the right to notify the people whose information was being sought, including Appelbaum. Moreover, Twitter hasn’t turned over information from the Appelbaum’s account yet, which is the same type of information Google was asked to turn over. Seems to me that Google isn’t quite as powerless here as they might initially appear, which is why I’m so critical of their compliance.

And thinking about it some more, I’ve realized that I’ve completely written off Congress at this point. I have absolutely no faith whatsoever that they’ll do anything useful, let alone anything that’s in the best interest of average citizens. I have more faith in Google, a for-profit company, and their ability to say ‘no’ than I do of the potential for Congress, our ‘elected representatives,’ to respect our rights and privacy, especially if the initial enactment and subsequent extension of the Patriot Act is any kind of indication. In essence, my complaint is primarily with Google because I think they can, and actually will, do something positive given enough pressure.

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