After receiving secret court orders, Google handed over data from the Gmail accounts of two former Wikileaks volunteers to the U.S. government. The orders, revealed on Friday by the two targets, are a snapshot of the rumored federal grand jury investigation into Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
The targets of the court orders are Smari McCarthy and Herbert Snorrason, both from Iceland. McCarthy is an Internet activist and computer programmer who worked for Wikileaks until 2010. Snorrason helped manage the whistleblowing's website chatroom for two months in 2010.
On Tuesday, Google sent an email to the two former Wikileaks associates, informing them of the existence of the court orders, which until May 2 were secret. There is no official confirmation that the orders are related to the Wikileaks investigation being conducted by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, but every sign points in that direction.
The investigation reportedly started in May 2010. It was later acknowledged by the government at the end of that year. As confirmed to independent journalist Alexa O'Brien in March, it is still ongoing.
In the case of McCarthy, Google received a subpoena on July 14, 2011. (PDF) ordering it to hand over "records and other information" of McCarthy's Gmail account. The information seized is a vast trove of metadata going as far back as Nov. 1, 2009. Specifically, the data includes names and physical addresses associated with the account, IP addresses of computers used to connect to it. It also included information related to his email usage, such as who he communicated with, when, from where, and for how long.
Regarding Snorrason's account, Google received the same kind of subpoena and also a search warrant dated October 14, 2011. According to it (PDF), the U.S. government obtained "preserved copies of e-mails [ ] draft e-mails, deleted e-mails, e-mails" and "the source and destination addresses associated with each e-mail, the date and time at which each e-mail was sent, and the size and length of each e-mail."
As Snorrason put it on his website, "Google has been compelled to hand over all e-mail associated with my Gmail account, every shred of information they had on my identity, and anything I'd uploaded to a Google service."
And, most likely, it's because he was associated, however briefly, with Assange. "Let's reiterate this, because that's the point I find the most remarkable in all of this: Because I talked to Julian Assange, all information held by Google relating to my user account with them can be handed over to U.S. prosecutors. Not just the contents of my conversations with Julian," he wrote.
Despite the far-reaching amount of data handed over by Google, both McCarthy and Snorrason are not too worried. "Thankfully, neither of us use our Google accounts for anything remotely sensitive," they said in a joint statement published on McCarthy's blog.
These orders only came to light because the gag order that prevented Google from notifying anyone about the orders was lifted in May of this year. That left other Wikileaks associates, like hacker and Tor developer Jacob Appelbaum, wondering:
I wonder if any of my service providers will tell me that they've received a sealed search warrant, an NSL or exigent circumstance letters?
Jacob Appelbaum (@ioerror) June 21, 2013
Image courtesy of Flickr, Abode of Chaos