Chevron Asks Email Providers to Hand Over Users’ Private Information
By Brian Hauss, Legal Fellow, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 2:03pm
As our online activities become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, we leave ever expanding trails of information about ourselves in the hands of internet companies. The ACLU has fought and continues to fight the aggressive attempts of government law enforcement agencies to subpoena this private data. Now, corporations are getting in on the act. In a civil lawsuit related to its sprawling legal battle against a $19 billion Ecuadorian judgment and the plaintiffs’ lawyer who won it, it was recently revealed that Chevron issued subpoenas to Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft for information on 101 separate email accounts.
The oil giant’s subpoenas instruct the companies to turn over nine years’ worth of identifying and usage information related to the accounts at issue—including the account holders’ names, addresses, phone numbers, billing information, and IP logs (which can show geographic location). Although seemingly innocuous, this information has the potential to reveal all sorts of insights into a person’s private life. Knowing that an e-mail was sent from a church, an abortion clinic, or the headquarters of a gay rights organization can reveal something important about the person who sent it.
One of the account holders targeted by Chevron was Dr. Kevin Jon Heller, a senior lecturer at the Melbourne Law School and international law blogger for Opinio Juris. Although he is a prominent critic of Chevron’s activities in the Ecuador case, he has no substantive connection to the actual litigation. As he describes here, he first learned of the subpoena when Google’s legal department sent him an email notifying him of the demand, informing him that he would have to provide a formal legal objection within a few weeks 5 if he wanted to stop his information from being released.