The whistle-blowing website Wikileaks has slammed search giant Google for waiting three years before disclosing that it handed over the personal e-mails of three staffers pursuant to a federal search warrant.
According to a letter penned by Wikileaks’ counsel, federal law enforcement officials enforced a search warrant on Google demanding the company turn over the content, metadata and other information related to the e-mail accounts of website staffers Joseph Farrell, Sarah Harrison and Kristinn Hrafnsson.
Hrafnsson and Farrell work directly for the company Hrafnsson is considered to be the official spokesperson, while Farrell works as a senior editor. Harrison, a British citizen, is best known as being a close advisor of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
The warrant, Wikileaks counsel said, was issued pursuant to an investigation into alleged violations of several computer fraud and espionage statutes, including the Espionage Act and the federal anti-hacking statute Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The warrant was executed in March 2012.
The warrant ordered Google to turn over a broad amount of data related to the three e-mail accounts, including all sent and received e-mails, draft messages and deleted material. Specific metadata, including sent and receive dates and the sizes of messages, were also requested under the court order.
According to Wikileaks counsel, nobody at Google notified the company about the warrant until last month.
“We are astonished and disturbed that Google waited over two and a half years to notify its subscribers that a search warrant was issued for their records,” the website’s counsel said.
The letter said the failure to notify was especially troubling because one year before the warrant was executed, Assange had specifically asked Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt to ensure the company would be notified if Google was forced to turn over subscriber records pursuant to a court order.
In its disclosure, Google told Wikileaks it was forbidden from notifying them about the warrant because a gag order had been issued by the court in connection with the investigation. The company did not say when the gag order had been lifted.
Harrison has since accused Google of aiding the federal government in a dragnet search and of helping authorities conceal the search.
“Neither Google nor the US government are living up to their own laws or rhetoric in privacy or press protections,” Harrison told The Guardian.
The warrant is believed to have been part of a U.S. Department of Justice inquiry into a vast amount of diplomatic cables that were stolen and then leaked by former Army specialist Chelsea Manning. Many of the same charges listed in the warrant were issued against Manning in connection with the material leak. Manning was arrested in mid-2010 shortly after Wikileaks began publishing some of the leaked content she was convicted on espionage and computer fraud charges in late 2013.
The court order executed against Google was issued from the Eastern District of Virginia, the same jurisdiction where a grand jury inquiry is believed to be taking place against Wikileaks and some of its top-level staffers.
According to The Guardian, the grand jury investigation into Wikileaks was still ongoing as of May of last year.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.