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In re Search of Google Email Accounts Identified In Attachment A

United States District Court, D. Alaska

March 3, 2015

In the Matter of the Search of: Google Email Accounts identified in Attachment A

Page 945

For USA, Plaintiff: Kyle Frederick Reardon, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office (Anch), Anchorage, AK.

Page 946

ORDER DENYING SEARCH WARRANT APPLICATION

[Docket No.1-1 (Sealed)]

KEVIN F. MCCOY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

I. Introduction

Before the Court is the government's ex parte search warrant application seeking compelled disclosure of all email content associated with six third-party Gmail accounts hosted by Google, Inc. (Google) pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and 18 U.S.C. § § 2703(a), 2703(b)(1)(A), and 2703(c)(1)(A).[1] The application is tendered in connection with an ongoing investigation into suspected sexual exploitation of children.[2] The application represents the government's second attempt to seize the content of emails from these six third-party email accounts.[3] This Court granted the government's first application authorizing the seizure of email content from these accounts based on the government's probable cause showing for the limited time periods set forth in the application.[4] Google declined to comply with the search warrant.

The government's current search application followed Google's untested claim that it is incapable of producing the requested email content for the limited time periods set forth in the first warrant.[5] Instead of challenging this assertion, the government now presents the current application which seeks the entire content of the six third-party Gmail accounts without the time period limitation contained in the first warrant. The new application does not explain why such broad search and seizure authority is reasonable under the circumstances of the case. And while the government promises to limit its search to the relevant date ranges, nothing in the proposed warrant precludes its agents from perusing other email content regardless how remote or how unrelated that content may be to the current investigation. Under these circumstances, Search Warrant Application 3:14-mj-00387-KFM must be denied as overbroad. This order will explain why this result is compelled by the Fourth Amendment. Because the order addresses matters related to an ongoing investigation, it has been drafted in a manner designed not to compromise that investigation.

Of course, the government remains free to seek an order compelling Google to comply with the earlier warrant provided it limits the request to email content for the narrowly defined periods relevant to the investigation of the six third-party Gmail accounts.[6] Alternatively, the government can renew the instant application if it proffers to seal, without any review absent further court order, material supplied by Google that is outside the time period for which probable cause has been established.

Page 947

II. Background

Craigslist, a free online advertising website, has been used in the past to solicit sexual encounters with minors by targeting adults who have access to minors.[7] A concerned citizen contacted law enforcement to report one such advertisement.[8] The posting included a photograph of a minor that, while sexually suggestive to some, would not qualify as child pornography.[9] Law enforcement promptly identified and interviewed the individual responsible for the advertisement.[10] This individual acknowledged the posting, admitted that images of child pornography would be found on the computer used create the post, and confirmed an interest in sexual contact with children.[11] The individual admitted using [REDACTED poster]@yahoo.com to post the advertisement and to correspond with those who replied to the advertisement.[12] Law enforcement thereafter obtained a search warrant to seize the computer used both to post the advertisement and to correspond with those who responded to the advertisement.[13] That computer remains in the custody of investigators.[14]

Next, a grand jury subpoena dispatched to Craigslist produced a number of similar postings by the same individual over a six month period.[15] As before, the postings appeared to solicit sexual contact with children through adults with access to children.[16] The subpoena also revealed the email addresses of those who corresponded with [REDACTED poster]@yahoo.com after the problematic advertisements were posted. However, the subpoena did not produce the content of these email communications or any photographs that may have accompanied them. This application, as did the earlier application, demonstrated that six third-party Gmail accounts hosted by Google corresponded or attempted to correspond with [REDACTED poster]@yahoo.com after two of the postings. Again, law enforcement knew precisely when the advertisements were posted, precisely when the emails were exchanged, and the email addresses that were used. The following two charts outline the origin, timing, and number of emails relating to the two postings at issue in this warrant application.

First Posting

First Posting

Gmail account

Outgoing emails

[REDACTED 1]@Gmail.com

14 emails to [REDACTED poster]@Yahoo.com

[REDACTED 2]@Gmail.com

1 email to [REDACTED poster]@Yahoo.com

Gmail account

Incoming emails

[REDACTED 1]@Gmail.com

11 emails from [REDACTED poster]@Yahoo.com

[REDACTED 2]@Gmail.com

No response from [REDACTED poster]@Yahoo.com

Gmail account

Correspondence dates

[REDACTED 1]@Gmail.com

All on the day immediately following the posting.

[REDACTED 2]@Gmail.com

21 days after the postin

Page 948

Second Posting

Gmail account

Outgoing emails

[REDACTED 3]@Gmail.com

5 emails to [REDACTED poster]@yahoo.com

[REDACTED 4]@Gmail.com

1 email to [REACTED poster]@yahoo.com

[REDACTED 5]@Gmail.com

1 email to [REACTED poster]@yahoo.com

[REDACTED 6]@Gmail.com

3 emails to [|REDACTED poster]@yahoo.com

Gmail account

Incoming Emails

[REDACTED 3]@Gmail.com

4 emails from [REDACTED poster]@yahoo.com

[REDACTED 4]@Gmail.com

No response from [REDACTED poster]@Yahoo.com

[REDACTED 5]@Gmail.com

No response from [REDACTED poster]@Yahoo.com

[REDACTED 6]@Gmail.com

1 email to [REDACTED poster]@yahoo.com

Gmail account

Date Range

[REDACTED 3]@Gmail.com

All on the same day as the posting

[REDACTED 4]@Gmail.com

On the same day as the posting

[REDACTED 5]@Gmail.com

On the day after ...


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