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In re Search of Google Email Accounts

United States District Court, D. Alaska

April 13, 2015

In the Matter of the Search of Google Email Accounts.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR EX ANTE AMENDMENTS TO SEARCH WARRANT 3:14-MJ-00352-KFM AND MOTION FOR UNSEALING

KEVIN F. McCOY, Magistrate Judge.

I. MOTION PRESENTED

Before the Court is Google, Inc.'s (Google's) motion in case 3:15-mc-00009-KFM, [1] which relates to a series of search-warrant applications filed by the government to obtain the contents of six Gmail accounts. Google seeks an order modifying its production duties under search warrant 3:14-mj-00352-KFM, and asks that its filing and any order that follows be unsealed.

This order grants Google's request for ex ante amendments to search warrant 3:14-mj-00352-KFM, and absolves Google of any responsibility to review email content. Because the order addresses matters related to an ongoing government investigation, it has been drafted in a manner designed not to compromise that investigation. A separate, contemporaneous order filed under seal outlines without redaction this Court's ex ante amendments to search warrant 3:14-mj-00352-KFM. Finally, Google's request that all filings in connection with this order be unsealed is granted, with one exception.

II. BACKGROUND

This Court issued a search warrant in In the Matter of the Search of Google Email Accounts, 3:14-mj-00352-KFM (the first warrant). The first warrant directed Google to provide the government with email correspondence from six Gmail accounts that were exchanged during brief periods of time these accounts were used to respond to Craigslist advertisements posted by [Redacted poster]@yahoo.com that solicited sexual encounters with minors. Specifically, for these narrow periods of time, the warrant directed Google to produce:

[T]he contents of electronic or wire communications held in the SUBJECT ACCOUNTS, including:
a) all electronic or wire communications with a minor or any person purporting to be a minor, or claiming to have access to a minor, or that otherwise involve the enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense (including email text, attachments, and imbedded files) in electronic storage by the PROVIDER, or held by the PROVIDER as a remote computing service (if any), within the meaning of Stored Communications Act;
b) all photos, files, data, or information in whatever form and by whatever means they have been created or stored relating to a minor, or individuals claiming to have access to a minor, or otherwise involve the enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.

Google declined to produce the requested email correspondence.

The government responded to Google's resistance with a second warrant application, In the Matter of the Search of Google Email Accounts, 3:14-mj-00387-KFM (the second warrant application). The second warrant application sought judicial authorization to search the same six Gmail accounts. However, the government reported that Google declined to comply with the first warrant because it lacked the ability to provide email content for only the narrow date ranges. In other words, according to the government, Google was only able (or willing) to produce everything in the Gmail accounts, and would not produce content for only a narrow period of time. Consequently, the second warrant application sought access to the entire content of the six Gmail accounts, without any date-range limitation. In a published order, this Court denied the second warrant application as overbroad because it failed to establish probable cause to obtain email content outside the narrow date ranges the accounts were used to respond to the problematic Craigslist advertisements.[2]

Google filed the instant motion in response to the published order.[3] Google contends it resisted the first warrant, not because of the narrow date-range limitation-in fact, Google represents that it "prefers date range limitations, " and regularly responds to warrants for email content circumscribed by date range limitations.[4] Rather, Google asserts it objected to the first warrant because it required Google to inspect email content for relevancy and evidentiary value-the warrant directed Google to produce "communications with a minor, a person purporting to be or have access to a minor or which otherwise related to the enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.'"[5] Google contends that it is not competent to perform such an analysis, and requiring it to do so is unfair and unduly burdensome.[6]

Hence, Google's two requests. First, Google asks for ex ante amendments to the first warrant, relieving it of any obligation to inspect email content for relevance and for evidentiary value. Second, Google asks that its motion and any order that follows be unsealed so that Google's rationale for resisting the first warrant is corrected in the public record; Google acknowledges that any unsealing must be done in a manner that does not compromise an ongoing government investigation into suspected sexual exploitation of children.[7]

After Google's filing, the Court identified the United States as an interested party, and directed the Clerk of Court to serve a copy of Google's motion on the government.[8] The Court then invited, but did not require, the government to respond to Google's two requests.[9] Time has expired ...


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