Monday, August 24, 2015

Google resists FBI 'fishing' in Benton's e-mails

Google Won’t Let the Government See the Emails of Rand Paul's Aides | Mother Jones - Russ Choma:

Aug. 19, 2015 - "In the summer of 2014, federal investigators began probing whether Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign had paid Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson for his endorsement. After Sorenson confessed, investigators focused on three other men, including current presidential candidate Rand Paul's nephew-in-law, Jesse Benton, whose email account supposedly contained evidence....

"FBI agents got a search warrant that entitled them to read the emails without Benton's cooperation. But the plan did not go smoothly. Benton has a Gmail account, and Google's policy is to notify users when their accounts have been hit with a search warrant. Benton's attorney, Roscoe Howard, promptly filed a motion to block the search warrant, alleging that it was improper, and Google stopped cooperating with the FBI.

"Two weeks ago, Benton and two other top Paul aides ... were indicted on federal charges, including conspiracy, campaign finance violations, and making false statements.... The FBI still hasn't gotten ahold of Benton's emails. Last week, a judge ruled that the FBI had a right to the emails, but once again, Benton resisted and Google agreed....

"'Frighteningly, the government still maintains that it has the right to trample Mr. Benton’s privacy rights and look through every single one of Mr. Benton’s emails, just as if his email account were a warehouse full of documents,' Howard wrote. 'The government’s statement underscores its true intent —to conduct a fishing expedition.'

"The government has now demanded that Google be held in contempt if the company doesn't immediately turn over the emails, and it has argued that Benton and his attorney can raise their concerns at trial if they don't like the way the search warrant was obtained....

"Hanni Fakhoury, a senior staff counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said courts have not yet settled the question of how specific or broad email search warrants should be.... 'This case is smack in the middle of the debate,' Fakhoury says. 'This is a very high-profile and dramatic example of it, because we're talking about half a million emails.'

"Howard, Benton's attorney, wrote in one filing that his client had cooperated fully with investigators and provided a 50,000-page list of all the emails in his account, which may contain as many as 500,000 emails. Howard argues that the government's search warrant is simply too broad, and that Benton's Gmail account contains both personal and political correspondence.

"Google has now officially joined the fight. Its lawyer, Guy Cook, told the court that the company will not turn over Benton's emails. 'Google cannot be held in contempt simply for allowing Mr. Benton to exercise his appellate rights and awaiting the district court’s ruling on the warrant’s validity,' Cook wrote. The company's position is that it will release emails only after the conflict over the search warrant has been resolved in court.

"A Google spokeswoman declined to discuss the case specifically but said the company won't comply with overly broad requests."

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