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New York Judge OKs Warrant To Search Entire Gmail Account

samzenpus posted about a month ago | from the we-want-everything dept.

Communications 150

jfruh writes While several U.S. judges have refused overly broad warrants that sought to grant police access to a suspect's complete Gmail account, a federal judge in New York State OK'd such an order this week. Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein argued that a search of this type was no more invasive than the long-established practice of granting a warrant to copy and search the entire contents of a hard drive, and that alternatives, like asking Google employees to locate messages based on narrowly tailored criteria, risked excluding information that trained investigators could locate.

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Warrants are supposed to be narrow (5, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | about a month ago | (#47499747)

lternatives, like asking Google employees to locate messages based on narrowly tailored criteria, risked excluding information that trained investigators could locate.

Ummm, isn't that PRECISELY the point? If the search criteria isn't sufficiently broad to catch someone then that means they don't have enough evidence to be conducting the search in the first place. Almost everyone can be found guilty of some illegal activity (however minor) if the search parameters are sufficiently broad.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (5, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a month ago | (#47499873)

Ummm, isn't that PRECISELY the point?

No. The point of the fourth amendment is to prevent investigators from harassing people looking for reasons to prosecute and persecute.

What seems to be happening here is that there is already evidence enough to justify a search, but the details are not specific enough to be able to ask someone else to execute it. As a physical analogue, there's enough evidence to search a house for a murder weapon, but the investigators don't know it's taped to the bottom of the third dresser drawer. In the case of email, I'd expect the investigators don't know all aliases that might have been used, or in what timeframe the relevant emails might have been sent.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500003)

I understand not knowing aliases, but timeframe?

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500141)

Imagine: witness says suspect used gmail account foo@example.com to receive requests as a hit man.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (4, Informative)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a month ago | (#47500249)

The investigation is for money laundering. It's not hard to imagine setting up a laundering channel months or years in advance, by conspiring with someone to accept a transfer of money and forward it on to some other conspirator.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about a month ago | (#47502297)

I'm not a money launderer, but if I was, I think my laundering channel would be pretty well hidden.

Maybe if I didn't know how to set up such a channel, I wouldn't be gainfully employed in computer security and would have to turn to money laundering.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500039)

No No! You don't get it! If the patent system has taught us anything, this is like searching someone's entire house, but on a computer. And everyone knows, that's completely different.

Anon for mod points.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (5, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about a month ago | (#47500045)

A better analogy would be "we have enough evidence to justify a search, but we don't know whether the murder weapon is a gun, a knife, a potato, or a window, so we're going to be keeping an exact record of every single object in the house".

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (5, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a month ago | (#47500137)

Could be. If several witnesses see an assailant bludgeon someone on the sidewalk with an obscured object, then run into a house, the police may not be able to ascertain exactly what the weapon is, but they'd certainly have enough evidence for a search, and they could keep a record of any potential weapons seen in the house in case forensics can later get them a better description of the weapon used. As in this case, they'd have to get as narrow a warrant as possible, specifying that they're searching for the weapon and not, say, evidence of tax fraud. Of course, if they found readily-visible evidence of such fraud during the course of the authorized search, they are not required to ignore it.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a month ago | (#47500495)

True, but at least in that case you'd expect them to limit their search to plausible bludgeons. It's a tantalising grey area, I think we both agree.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (4, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a month ago | (#47500545)

Could be. If several witnesses see an assailant bludgeon someone on the sidewalk with an obscured object, then run into a house, the police may not be able to ascertain exactly what the weapon is, but they'd certainly have enough evidence for a search, and they could keep a record of any potential weapons seen in the house in case forensics can later get them a better description of the weapon used.

I don't think the question is really whether the judge can order such a thing. I think it's more of a question of whether it is justified in this case.

GP made a very good point. Search warrants are required to be particular, and to specify the particular thing(s) being searched for. If they don't know what they're looking for, broadening the search to turn it into a "fishing expedition" is not allowable.

The general principle is that the search should be as narrowly focused on particular evidence as can practically be managed. Is that the case here? It doesn't seem to be, but I'm not the judge, I don't know the details.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (4, Insightful)

nabsltd (1313397) | about a month ago | (#47501793)

The general principle is that the search should be as narrowly focused on particular evidence as can practically be managed. Is that the case here? It doesn't seem to be, but I'm not the judge, I don't know the details.

I suspect the issue might be that a list of keywords (and synonyms) that would be reasonable in a money laundering case might be so large as to make a global retrieval seem reasonable. And, paring back the list of words might miss something important.

I see no harm whatsoever allowing a search through all the GMail of that one person for evidence concerning money laundering, with evidence of any unrelated crimes (e.g., admission to a murder of a spouse because they were sleeping with someone else) not being admissible.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (3, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | about a month ago | (#47502335)

I don't think the question is really whether the judge can order such a thing. I think it's more of a question of whether it is justified in this case.

We lack the data to second-guess the judge's judgment. I'm elated by this story, personally. There was a judge; there was a warrant; that's amazing progress for email!

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500989)

A better analogy would be "we have enough evidence to justify a search, but we don't know whether the murder weapon is a gun, a knife, a potato, or a window, so we're going to be keeping an exact record of every single object in the house".

And unlike mail that's hosted locally or grabbed via POP3, it's gmail. (Other webmail providers probably do the same thing these days), where everything that's been deleted isn't really gone, the UI just doesn't show it anymore. So it's more like "an exact record of every single object that has ever been in the house," even if it's something the homeowner threw out years before the alleged offence.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47502151)

gmail can be accessed via pop3 (although any pop3 provider could store the mail somewhere else too, this is not unique to webmail or gmail)

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500107)

Except warrants for physical items have to list specific places to search and specific items to be searched for. They can't get a warrant to search everywhere and for anything they want. So he is right and you are wrong.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a month ago | (#47500181)

Specific place to search: the email account (or the house, in my example). Specific items to be searched for: evidence of money laundering (or a murder weapon).

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (2)

Dishevel (1105119) | about a month ago | (#47500477)

But they are not asking for evidence of anything. They are asking for everything. This type of search allows "Search First, the find something to bust you on." That is bad.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47501339)

That's not specific. Also, any warrant asking to just search the entire house should be rejected, too.

It always seems like you're on the side of the government, whether it's the NSA or what have you.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Triklyn (2455072) | about a month ago | (#47501491)

... searching the entire house for a murder weapon seems eminently reasonable. or drugs. it seems like "the entire house" is pretty much the most reasonable scope of all these types of searches. where you're fairly sure the item was in the suspects possession, but you need to find it either at his or her work or home/vehicle.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (4, Interesting)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a month ago | (#47501867)

It always seems like you're on the side of the government, whether it's the NSA or what have you.

Often, yes. You see, I actually understand the design of the US government. It's built to continually revise and improve, and it's been doing so for over 200 years. On the other hand, your opinions have been forming for less than a century, and since you're only a single person, you've undergone far fewer revision cycles, all of which have been from a very limited perspective.

For example:

Also, any warrant asking to just search the entire house should be rejected, too.

Is that just, though? It may appeal to your sense of privacy, but would it appeal to your sense of justice to know that any criminal could effectively conceal evidence by simply putting it in a large enough box? How would your neighbors feel about it, knowing that you could be seen kidnapping their children, and the police could do nothing because they wouldn't know what room they're being held in?

Sure, the examples are hypothetical, but the underlying issue of deciding what is right predates your consideration by quite a long while. The best we have so far is a system where certain activities are absolutely permitted, and certain activities are absolutely forbidden, and deciding which category a given situation fits into falls to a judge whose primary interest is to bring the legal precedent closer to a state that everyone considers to be fair. It's not perfect, and likely will never be perfect, but it's closer than having Random Internet Guy simply decide that privacy trumps justice, because he says so.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Sowelu (713889) | about a month ago | (#47502233)

God, it's nice to see someone on here who doesn't think the government is a literal force of primal evil. Having even a little faith in the system seems to be thoughtcrime on internet boards.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

nabsltd (1313397) | about a month ago | (#47501881)

Also, any warrant asking to just search the entire house should be rejected, too.

I'm no police apologist, but what you're saying is downright silly.

If the police have enough evidence that shows you own a firearm of the same caliber as the murder weapon, and some other evidence indicates you might be guilty (e.g., motive), then they shouldn't need to know what room in your house you keep your gun in order to get a search warrant.

In this case, if the police have enough other evidence that you have evidence of your money laundering in your GMail account, I don't see it unreasonable that they can search all the e-mail. It really isn't any different from getting a warrant to search the entire contents of a specific filing cabinet in your home, and it really is an unreasonable burden to require the police to also know the color of the paper the evidence is printed on, as well as which file folder contains the paper.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47502285)

Ummm, isn't that PRECISELY the point?

No. The point of the fourth amendment is to prevent investigators from harassing people looking for reasons to prosecute and persecute.

What seems to be happening here is that there is already evidence enough to justify a search, but the details are not specific enough to be able to ask someone else to execute it. As a physical analogue, there's enough evidence to search a house for a murder weapon, but the investigators don't know it's taped to the bottom of the third dresser drawer. In the case of email, I'd expect the investigators don't know all aliases that might have been used, or in what timeframe the relevant emails might have been sent.

Damn that's a horrible analogy. No, presumably if they are getting a warrant for a murder weapon, they probably have a body and a reason to suspect the person, and if they have the body they probably have a good idea what the weapon is (gun vs. knife say), so they get a warrant to search the house for any/all knives or similar weapons. Finding a gun wouldn't really be relevant if the murder was committed with a knife (or bladed object). If they fail to find it taped under the 3rd dresser drawer, well, that's their problem.

What they are saying here is asking the landlord (or the bank holding the mortgage) to go in and search for "any knife with a 3" or larger blade", they might not find it taped under the drawer because they aren't "trained investigators" and don't have trained police dogs to hunt things out with blood on them, etc - so they want everything so their investigators, trained for this, can search. Now, whether it's probable a geek Google employee can't find stuff the cops could, well, I dunno...

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (5, Insightful)

Warhawke (1312723) | about a month ago | (#47502509)

That's not completely correct. The Fourth Amendment was enacted specifically to prevent writs of assistance, which were commonly used in Britain to give law enforcement officers broad, nearly unlimited power to conduct searches for contraband or smuggled goods. The Fourth Amendment was enacted to prevent law enforcement officers from having this broad power to search anywhere and everywhere, even if there was reasonable evidence of a crime.

Part of the danger of broad writs or warrants is that (1) they unduly invade a person's fundamental right to privacy, and (2) the adoption of the plain view exception to the exclusionary rule will make you liable for anything the police uncover, whether it's related to the crime being searched for or not. So if the police go searching your hard drives for child pornography and uncover evidence that you bought some pot from a friend via e-mail, that evidence can and will be used against you.

You are correct in that a search may be so broad as to search for evidence of the thing to be seized. However, the presumption is and should always be tailored as narrowly as possible. Simply saying that the police do not know where the gun is does not give the police powers to search any property the suspect owns. The police may search his house and anywhere in it, but the boundaries must be narrowly tailored so as to survive constitutional scrutiny. In the case of e-mail, any communications with people not directly implicated or otherwise material to the crime should be excluded, as there is relative certainty that material information will not be communicated with these parties (for example, you aren't going to find evidence of child pornography in my weekly Mint financial statement updates or newsletters I receive). As such, it is likely that the scope of this warrant is over-broad.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499879)

Almost everyone can be found guilty of some illegal activity (however minor) if the search parameters are sufficiently broad.

Which is the whole point in total surveillance.

Everyone's already been guilty of something for some while, but now we also already have all the evidence.

The law may be applied coincidentally whenever the wrong people are annoyed. Government protestors really have no chance unless they're the particularly rare genius with a lot of power (as e.g. Snowden) who in one fell swoop unleashes enough on the world to put them immediately in the public eye.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (3, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about a month ago | (#47499891)

How does this differ from a typical search warrant for a premises? While you can get a search warrant to search "room X at property Y", more often than not the search warrant is for "property Y", which is exactly the same as a gmail account in entirety.

Minimally invasive searches (5, Informative)

sjbe (173966) | about a month ago | (#47500165)

How does this differ from a typical search warrant for a premises?

It might not be any different. However even a warrant for a premises is not (supposed to be) without limits. If the information sought can be reasonably obtained through less intrusive means then it is supposed to be obtained through those alternative means. If the cops are interested in someones google account (or hard drive - same principle) because they have credible suspicion about information that may be contained there then a warrant is fine but only to the extent necessary to search for and safeguard the information sought.

Basically if the judge is saying that searching an entire account is appropriate merely because there is a chance investigators might miss something then there is a problem. The entire point of a getting judicial review prior to a search is so that searches do not become wider than absolutely necessary. Part of that is so that people don't become accused of crimes they otherwise would not have been under suspicion of. Giving carte-blanche to search someone's google account in many cases is opening up their entire life to a search so there had better be a damn good reason to permit a search that broad.

Re:Minimally invasive searches (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500655)

Any other crimes they find, they can't use. That is how warrants work. They are searching all of the person's email for content related to the crime they are investigating. Anything else, whether they see it or not, is inadmissible.

Re:Minimally invasive searches (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500697)

Only until they go back to the judge and get a new warrant for it.

Re:Minimally invasive searches (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47501521)

I'm pretty certain your mistaken. Evidence they find of another crime can be utilized so long as its not beyond the warrant's search authorization and is in plain sight. That is to say if they enter into the warrant they are searching for child pornography at address B room C and are authorized to seize all electronics and then in the process of the search see a sawed off shot gun for which they believe to be illegal they can seize that as evidence of a crime too even if it is a different crime. That sawed off shot gun can then be used as evidence against you and another charge added to the list. On the other hand if they search your coin box and find illegally gotten treasure it can't in theory be used against you since they were exceeding the warrant's parameters and the coins weren't in plain sight.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500403)

"Search property Y, for these and these specific items/pieces of information/data, pertaining precisely to these and these specific supported suspisions of breaking an important law, considering these possible elements of proof are important to the case, and sufficient proof cannot be obtained otherwise". Everything else should be completely ignored by the people doing the search, which should be excluded from any other proceeding, so as not to influence the case. Anything else is abusive and oppressive, and we all now it is regularly used as harassment and "punishment" of honest citizens all around the world, opposing to corruption, tyranny, and erroneous and oppressive laws.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about a month ago | (#47500707)

I'm not being pedantic here. Searching a house and an email account are not the same, and trying to make an analogy will generate questions based on what people know about the house scenario.

Consider a file cabinet of all correspondence, and the judge allowing a copy of every paper retained for evidence. You can't take everything just in case. But is this different because its a copy instead of taking the original?

Hint, there is a big difference between search and seize. It should be clear now.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (3, Insightful)

Brulath (2765381) | about a month ago | (#47499937)

The New York court, in contrast, granted on June 11 a warrant that permitted law enforcement to obtain emails and other information from a Gmail account, including the address book and draft mails, and to permit a search of the emails for certain specific categories of evidence.

They only have permission to search for certain specific categories of evidence, despite having the entire archive, so they wouldn't be able to find them guilty of some minor illegal activity unless it was part of the specific categories the judge authorised.

Have you ever tried to find something in your email account that you know is there but couldn't locate it using any search terms that came to mind, only to find it later along with something completely unrelated? How hard do you think it would be to describe to a Google employee the type of information you want them to search for in (likely) thousands of emails and get a perfect success rate (assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that that's the only satisfactory outcome)?

Responding to the opinion by the District of Columbia court that gave the government the option of getting the email host to search the emails, Judge Gorenstein wrote that Google employees would not be able to arrive at the significance of particular emails without having been trained in the substance of the investigation.

"While an agent steeped in the investigation could recognize the significance of particular language in emails, an employee of the email host would be incapable of doing so," he wrote.

It seems to be the same thing, to me. So we have limitations to the type of evidence that may be acquired, and the ability to find that evidence using people with intimate knowledge of the case (as opposed to a corporation's employee).

I don't get the fuss, it's not like you have some right to hide suspected (they got a warrant) illegal activities just because they're recorded in an email archive stored somewhere other than your computer's hard drive. The only problem I have with it could be described as a slippery slope fallacy [yourlogicalfallacyis.com] ; that is, maybe the rules will become more relaxed over time as more judges build on this case. But that's somewhat pointless speculation at this point; this judge seems to be quite sane.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Threni (635302) | about a month ago | (#47500035)

> They only have permission to search for certain specific categories of
> evidence, despite having the entire archive, so they wouldn't be able to find
> them guilty of some minor illegal activity unless it was part of the specific
> categories the judge authorised.

Or unless the details of the minor illegal activity (or major illegal activity but unrelated to the investigation, come to that) are acted upon within a seperate investigation.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500113)

$100 says they find kiddie porn.

Limitations on law enforcement (3, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | about a month ago | (#47500269)

Have you ever tried to find something in your email account that you know is there but couldn't locate it using any search terms that came to mind, only to find it later along with something completely unrelated? How hard do you think it would be to describe to a Google employee the type of information you want them to search for in (likely) thousands of emails and get a perfect success rate (assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that that's the only satisfactory outcome)?

Law enforcement is not entitled to a perfect success rate. If they have evidence that justifies searching an entire account then fine but I defy you to come up with more than a handful of cases where such a blanket search is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. We put limits on law enforcement because law enforcement has a LONG history of abusing power. The majority of the Bill of Rights is devoted to limiting the power of law enforcement. We put these limits in place knowing full well that the result will be that some guilty people go free because the alternative is to convict innocent people. The job of law enforcement is not supposed to be easy or convenient.

I don't get the fuss, it's not like you have some right to hide suspected (they got a warrant) illegal activities just because they're recorded in an email archive stored somewhere other than your computer's hard drive.

Strawman argument. The question is whether the warrant and the activities permitted are appropriately narrow to the circumstances. If they are then all is well. If the warrant allows a fishing expedition then it is an abuse of the judicial process. If the search criteria that can be justified is too narrow to result in information useful for a conviction then that is just too bad. If they don't have enough evidence to convince a (properly behaving) judge that a wider search is necessary then that is how the system is supposed to behave.

The only problem I have with it could be described as a slippery slope fallacy; that is, maybe the rules will become more relaxed over time as more judges build on this case.

It's not a slippery slope problem. The problem is that there is relatively little guidance on what the rules and parameters regarding these sorts of searches should be because the technology of online accounts has advanced somewhat ahead of the law. Could be that the warrant issued was perfectly appropriate to the circumstances. However the justification was given that "investigators might miss something" which is alarmingly insufficient. Yes, they might miss something and unless they have evidence to justify a very broad search then they should have to use less invasive means even if that means they might miss something. Better that 100 guilty men go free than a single innocent man be wrongly convicted. Searching someone's entire Google account is a very invasive search and there had better be a very good reason to allow it.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about a month ago | (#47500323)

How hard do you think it would be to describe to a Google employee the type of information you want them to search for in (likely) thousands of emails and get a perfect success rate (assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that that's the only satisfactory outcome)?

Not all that hard really. I agree with you in that you probably can't go specifying search terms because all it would take is a few code words having been used and you really might miss what you are looking for. That said a lot of people now have a decade of correspondence in Gmail. I think "the entire mailbox of" is a little to broad for a warrant. Its not fair to just open up all of someones papers for their entire life for investigation.

I would expect in almost every situation there would be *some* criteria short of *all messages* that could be used. Like say all message between "X date and Z dates", when the crime took place on Y date. Bracket it by a year or so, or maybe longer if it was some sort of conspiracy or something at that point the prosecutors have to have some definable reasons and a magistrate has to agree the make sense. Maybe its all messages with an 822 from ${address}; or even mail server IP in ${geographic region}.

Prosecutors should have to demonstrate some knowledge of what they are looking for, just like with a physical search where they have to say: we are looking for a knife between 3" and 7" long, or financial documents related to account XXXX--XXXX-XXX.

 

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

nabsltd (1313397) | about a month ago | (#47501991)

Its not fair to just open up all of someones papers for their entire life for investigation.

OK, how about this physical example where you have a filing cabinet which contains papers that have written on them evidence of a crime. The police execute a warrant to search through the filing cabinet for those papers, and take only those papers concerning the crime.

But, but must read every paper to determine if that particular paper has the evidence they are looking for. So, your "entire life" has been exposed. Nothing except what concerns the exact crime on the warrant can ever be used against you in a criminal trial, but they might have learned any number of other things about you that you wanted to keep secret.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (0)

DarkOx (621550) | about a month ago | (#47502651)

yes but they would get a warrant to search the filing cabinet for the named documents. They *might* discover other interesting documents incidental to the search in the cabinet and they would be allowed access to those. They would not be allowed to remove or copy the other documents. They also would not be allowed to drive to your parents place 5 hours away and search thur boxes of old files there from 10 years ago, unless they specified doing so on the warrant and it would only be allowed if there was reason to think related documents could be there.

E-mailboxes are not perfectly analogous to physical filing containers. People tend to have all of there electronic documents in once place. I think the basic principle of limited searches though means if you can't restrict where, because there isn't an atomic concept of place, than you must restrict what. So I still say minimally having to name a reasonable date range is not asking to much of LEOs.
 

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a month ago | (#47499957)

I imagine searching an entire hard-drive would be broad enough to catch most /. users.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (2)

David_Hart (1184661) | about a month ago | (#47500265)

I imagine searching an entire hard-drive would be broad enough to catch most /. users.

I am not a lawyer but as far as I know, search warrants are tied to a specific crime. Any evidence of any other crime is inadmissible in court. Of course, if investigators stumbled on evidence of something like terrorism your still likely to end up in Gitmo.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500525)

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | about a month ago | (#47500535)

What "interesting" lives you imagine most /. users to lead.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

Falos (2905315) | about a month ago | (#47500645)

Doesn't need to be interesting. The average ("Three felonies per day") isn't interesting if only by definition. If anything, someone who absolutely couldn't be implicated would be the interesting outlier.

But I'm guessing you had "real" concerns in mind. "Maybe one day law enforcement will scale back and only hunt those," he failed to say with a straight face.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month ago | (#47500101)

I dunno, the judge is right that warrants are granted for things like "Contents of X", including when X is a hard drive. Why is this materially different? Gmail holds ~7GB of email, I know people with PST files over 7GB.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about a month ago | (#47500161)

Used to have that too. Strange thing was, the PST file only held a few hundered Emails.

At one point Outlook wil probably block the PC for a few hours and do a 6,9GB garbage collection.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about a month ago | (#47500349)

Ummm, isn't that PRECISELY the point? If the search criteria isn't sufficiently broad to catch someone then that means they don't have enough evidence to be conducting the search in the first place. Almost everyone can be found guilty of some illegal activity (however minor) if the search parameters are sufficiently broad.

Genuine question. If I employed the services of a company specializing in archiving paperwork, and the government had a search warrant for potential evidence in their case which could be contained in that paperwork, wouldn't the prosecutor (or at least someone working under the prosecutor's direction) be the one looking through it? As the argument goes so many times against the government's practices, why should we expect that, in the case of email, searches should operate substantially differently than with paper records? In this case, it seems wholly appropriate to apply it in the other direction.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500507)

OMFG people, what part of this do you not get? The system is broken. Anything that the government is unable to get legally, they will get illegally. Who cares if parameters are "broad"? This is like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Just declare that you have no moral obligation to put up with their BS, and start living your life like an outlaw.

Re:Warrants are supposed to be narrow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47501543)

We can argue all day long about what is right but, the bottom line is the government can do anything they please, including confiscate your property just because they needed that industrial grinder or air ratchet for themselves. I know, I've had it happen to me.

this one goes out... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499755)

... to all you who cry about warrantless wiretaping, the lack of judicial review in the GWOT, and all that other stuff.

Well here you go, you got your [uber-lawyer who asnwers to no-one] involved. Happy now?

Re:this one goes out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500443)

... to all you who cry about warrantless wiretaping, the lack of judicial review in the GWOT, and all that other stuff.

Well here you go, you got your [uber-lawyer who asnwers to no-one] involved. Happy now?

Yes? I may not like a lot of things, but as long as a judge is held accountable with their name on the warrant, I have no problems with this. No idea why it is an article. Seems like a forced clickbait article being about Google.

There is nothing wrong about searching an email account with a warrant. The only difference between this and a general "house search" warrant is that the contents are easily indexed. It is like going into a taxidermist office looking under homo sapiens for murder victims.

Well, it *is* consistent (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499761)

If it's okay to go through someone's locally-stored data, why not their remotely-stored data? It's not like there's a fundamental difference. If there were such a difference, then using the cloud would be a perfect "you can't get me" loophile.

How narrow is the search? (2)

sjbe (173966) | about a month ago | (#47499837)

If it's okay to go through someone's locally-stored data, why not their remotely-stored data?

The question isn't local versus remote. The question is narrowly tailored search versus fishing expedition. If they have enough evidence to justify a search of someone's entire account (or local hard drive) then it shouldn't be hard to convince a judge to issue a warrant with those search parameters. However warrants should be as as narrowly defined as possible based on the available evidence. If you suspect someone of burglary that likely does not constitute sufficient grounds to search their hard drive (or google account) for in its entirety unless to police have specific and credible evidence to the contrary. Warrants are supposed to have the minimum necessary search parameters.

I'm not familiar with the particulars of this case but I can think of plenty of circumstances where it would be quite inappropriate to search someone's entire account. There are also circumstances where it is perfectly appropriate but the warrant should not be that broad without damn good reason.

Re:How narrow is the search? (1)

CaptainDork (3678879) | about a month ago | (#47499947)

Good point, because this is a slippery slope.

The scary thought is that the government could get a warrant to confiscate ALL of a suspect's stuff on the grounds that evidence may exist in the defendant's truck, house, place of business, in the form of data that exists anywhere ...

To me, the government is saying, "We don't have enough on this guy, so give us everything he's got and maybe we can make a case."

And maybe not.

You are correct that it's a fishing expedition.

Re:How narrow is the search? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500089)

We can argue all day about the conditions under which it's fair to let the authorities search a suspect's full hard drive, but if those conditions are met, then it absolutely makes sense that the authorities should be able to search an online email account. You can't just say "if they're looking for [keyword] then they should only be able to run a query in the email database for emails with [keyword] in them".

If the cops have a warrant to search for drugs in your house, they'll go through everything (and if I recall correctly, they can't bust you if they find something illegal that's not on their warrant... right?). If the cops have a warrant to search for evidence of a crime on your hard drive, they'll look at everything and not just run a bunch of automatic searches with keywords that may of may not get results. So it stands to reason that if they have a warrant to search your emails, they should be able to read all emails, and not ask Google to run queries.

Now in this case, maybe the warrant was unjustified, I don't know. But if it was justified, then the fact that the authorities could go through the suspect's entire GMail account is not shocking at all.

Re:How narrow is the search? (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about a month ago | (#47501979)

The police certainly can bust you if they find something else while searching for your house for {something _else}, provided that {something_else} was found while legally executing the original search.

If the police have been following your bookmaking or money laundering operation for some time, and they come to your house with a nice broad warrant to collect all files, records and ledgers, they can still bust you for the marijuana grow room they walk into while looking for file cabinets.

Re:How narrow is the search? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47502303)

I am not sure that is a bad thing in theory. in practice ofcourse it means if you do not find exactly what you need you can conceivably find something else (even if minor). I dont see a problem in a drug-operation coming to light and being dealt with during the investigation of a money laundering operation - but where to draw the line between that and privacy is hard...

It is like you think people have a right to break the law if they can hide it and not amount of accidental discovery can possibly be used against someone... are you a lawyer?

Re:How narrow is the search? (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about a month ago | (#47502423)

IANAL, TINLA

The common argument here is that police can always find something. Any car can be pulled over, but it *generally* takes a fairly lengthy investigation for them to obtain a search warrant your house (if you didn't already let them in the door).

Probably the example I can think of with the least work would be search warrants based on power usage to find marajuana grows, but even those seem to be corroborated with routine investigative work -- or at least tips from disgruntled customers or smaller fish bargaining for a better deal. But even when you're dealing drugs from your house, generally speaking it's going take multiple confirmed buys from CI's or UC's before the warrant gets executed. The feds coming for your file cabinets are similar. Sure, there's some rubber-stamping judges out there, but most departments seem to know they've got a "reasonable" barrier to meet before warrants are granted for houses. ...cars? Not so much.

Example of slippery slope (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499765)

Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein argued that a search of this type was no more invasive than the long-established practice of granting a warrant to copy and search the entire contents of a hard drive, and that alternatives, like asking Google employees to locate messages based on narrowly tailored criteria, ....

So, if a judge years ago did not allow the searching of a hard drive, this judge wouldn't have anything to stand on.

See, when the cops are allowed to do something seemingly little, then it allows for something else seemingly little, and so on and so on.

Our freedoms and liberties are being chipped away everyday.

Back during the Bush admin when folks were cautioning about the increased Executive powers, they were labeled "UnAmerican", "Liberal" or some other non-sense. When it was pointed out that the next Administration would get those same powers - meaning a Democrat may get them (and did) - it went over their heads.

And then there are the folks who discount the "Slippery Slope" argument as a logical fallacy.

Well, here you go.

I am concerned as to how far this will go in the future. And I hope the ACLU and EFF is all over this.

Hurr. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499841)

Our freedoms and liberties are being chipped away everyday.

Please inform me what freedoms and liberties are being chipped away by seizure of personal effects with a valid warrant, in the same manner that has happened since the founding of this country.

Because that's what we're talking about here.

Not that I don't appreciate HURRR EN ESS EHHHH DURRR, but seriously, shitting MUH FREEDUMBS all over the place is part of the reason nobody takes the problem seriously. Because y'all sound like a bunch of crackpots.

Re:Hurr. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499887)

That's just it, it isn't a valid warrant - it's an overly broad dragnet as they don't have enough evidence to "know" what to search for.

Those kinds of warrants are illegal, and go against "illegal search / seizure".

Just because a corrupt judge signs off on it, doesn't make it legal.

Re:Hurr. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500177)

Yes, we should all just sit by quietly while our freedoms are corroded, because god forbid we are seen as crackpots by idiots like you.

Re:Example of slippery slope (2)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month ago | (#47500115)

So, if a judge years ago did not allow the searching of a hard drive, this judge wouldn't have anything to stand on.

Or, the judge in this case would have set that precedent using the same reasoning that judge years ago did.

Re:Example of slippery slope (1)

mlw4428 (1029576) | about a month ago | (#47501199)

Why is this any different to you than a search warrant against your house?

Re:Example of slippery slope (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47501691)

Your house doesn't contain copies of every conversation you ever had.

" and particularly describing" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499781)

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Re:" and particularly describing" (1)

beatle42 (643102) | about a month ago | (#47499949)

In this case the "place to be searched" is described as their gmail account, right?

Re:" and particularly describing" (1)

messymerry (2172422) | about a month ago | (#47499985)

What? ...and we are supposed to honor this barbaric relic called a constitution. It's more fun to make shit up as you go. The State is full to overflowing with people that get their jollies looking in other people's medicine cabinets and underwear drawers. The Internet is the dream of the Stasi.

Re:" and particularly describing" (2)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month ago | (#47500143)

You do realize that authorities have ALWAYS been able to "look in medicine cabinets and underwear drawers", if they had probable cause and were issued a warrant by the courts?

Yall need to go home, this isnt the "government overreach" story you're looking for.

Re:" and particularly describing" (1)

Ash-Fox (726320) | about a month ago | (#47500047)

particularly describing the place to be searched

Check.

and the persons or things to be seized.

Check.

No problem here, go home.

Re:" and particularly describing" (2)

Duhavid (677874) | about a month ago | (#47500761)

and the persons or things to be seized.

from what I have read, they do not specify the person or things to be seized except "everything".

In my mind, "No Check".

Re:" and particularly describing" (1)

nabsltd (1313397) | about a month ago | (#47502063)

from what I have read, they do not specify the person or things to be seized except "everything".

We don't know that, as nothing has reported what they can "seize", only what they can "search". They are permitted to search the entire account. My guess would be that prosecutors would then take everything they found which they believed was relevant and bring it before the judge, who would then give the yes/no for each piece, seeing as how that's how evidence works in every case.

Also, if the government has some sort of injunction to prevent the defendant from using the account (reasonable, since they could destroy or fabricate evidence), it has already been "seized", and would need to remain so until the trial was complete. Getting a snapshot of everything now could actually allow the defendant to resume using the account, so that the "seizure" period would be minimized.

Re:" and particularly describing" (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month ago | (#47500131)

The warrant in question describes the gmail account to be searched, based upon probable cause.

The Bill of Rights ensures due process, it doesnt say that you can use Gmail as a shield for illegal activity.

Re:" and particularly describing" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47502377)

Only argument is on the probable cause. if the warrant is issued then it is not unreasonable. the place searched is the mail archive, not unlike they would go through the printed documents found, looking for the same "things" (are paper files only allowed to be seached with a keyword search? how does that work?) as they do the email - and if those papers happen to document other crimes then tough fucking luck.

Is it the same? (1)

dingleberrie (545813) | about a month ago | (#47499817)

Isn't all criteria, by definition, more narrowly tailored than no criteria?

In your house, you can throw out things and hide others in a secret place, on your hard drive you can throw out things and encrypt others.
Does this Gmail account allow you to throw-out and hide things? Is it really analogous?

As the old song goes (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a month ago | (#47499849)

I'm wary of the slippery slope fallacy, but this seems like a genuine example of an instance where a slightly troubling activity - keeping images of people's entire hard drives - has led to a broader and more troubling one.

And if you tolerate this,
Then your email will be next
Will be next
Will be next
Will be next

Two sides to this... (2, Interesting)

SailorSpork (1080153) | about a month ago | (#47499863)

One one hand, I join in the mob rage that this warrant is obviously to broad / vague. On the other hand, as of 2014 in the US this data still need a search warrant to obtain. Let's see how this conversation goes in 2020. Maybe by then US will stand for Universal Surveillance.

Re:Two sides to this... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499913)

> Let's see how this conversation goes in 2020.
> Maybe by then US will stand for Universal Surveillance.

It does already in 2014. :-(

Two sides to this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47500145)

By 2020, the police will have the right to question you while monitoring your brain to determine the truth of what you say. You won't even have to answer because they will know from your brain's response what you were going to say.
After all it's no different to scanning the complete history of your digital life and looking for crimes and that became law in 2014.

Re:Two sides to this... (1)

Sowelu (713889) | about a month ago | (#47502309)

Thing is, that's not actually so bad to me at all. If you could tell whether someone was lying or telling the truth about performing some illegal act--and be certain of it (big assumption)--I'd wholeheartedly support it. It would catch criminals a lot faster, and exonerate the innocent a lot faster, what on earth could be bad about that? As you're describing it, it doesn't sound like it's violating any privacy of yours, except for the specific fact "did you commit the crime". It's just a one-shot perfectly accurate truth serum.

It certainly doesn't violate the 5th Amendment. The "no self incrimination" is specifically to cut down on coerced, inaccurate testimony. If this thing was accurate, it's a completely different issue.

It seems to me that almost every Internet Anti-Government Crusader's true agenda is "protect my right to lie to the authorities", or "protect my right to not get caught". Doesn't get any of my respect.

Congress can solve these ambiguities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499933)

But they won't.

Save America: Re-elect no one. Ever.

And for us non gmailers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47499971)

Just wondering what would happen to us folks that roll our own mail server. Is there already a red flag out there that they can't see our email or we would just get the warrant in the mail asking for us to turn over our own information?

Hang on, I think there's a knock at the door...

Re:And for us non gmailers? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a month ago | (#47500053)

They'd presumably just seize the server as evidence.

Stop copying hard drives too! (4, Insightful)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a month ago | (#47499979)

no more invasive than the long-established practice of granting a warrant to copy and search the entire contents of a hard drive

This "long-established practice" has always been a violation of the 4th amendment. The recent case where the US government used hard drive data from a *different* case [slashdot.org] is proof that they should not do this. They should never get the entire hard drive contents. A neutral 3rd-party should copy the drive, perform an appropriate search, then erase the copy. There's no reason for the government to indefinitely hold copies of data they should never have had in the first place.

Just imagine if they had a warrant to get your address book, but they kept a copy of every piece of paper in your entire home, just in case it became relevant later. There is no way that would be allowed. But the digital equivalent is somehow acceptable.

Re:Stop copying hard drives too! (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a month ago | (#47500069)

A neutral 3rd-party should copy the drive, perform an appropriate search, then erase the copy.

The police are that neutral third party. Clearly they are not you, and they are also not the people who accuse you (or the prosecutor representing the people).

A large part of our justice system is focused on keeping them neutral. The fact that the investigators did not erase their copy, but rather retained it, is why the appeals court in that case reversed the judgement.

Re:Stop copying hard drives too! (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a month ago | (#47500203)

I thought the judged dinged them only for using the data, not retaining it. I am under the impression retaining it is standard practice. Is that not the case?

Who holds and filters the data in a civil case?

Re:Stop copying hard drives too! (4, Insightful)

dagarath (33684) | about a month ago | (#47500445)

Police are not a neutral third party. They are paid by the same state that pays the prosecutor and the judicial system. Neutrality in that setting is legal fiction.

Re:Stop copying hard drives too! (1)

ADRA (37398) | about a month ago | (#47502229)

If the police enter your house on spousal abuse and see a pound of coke on your coffee table, you're still going to arrested for both. If you wanted to be a smart criminal, learn to segregate your data better, stupid.

let me be the first to say... (1)

davethomask (3685523) | about a month ago | (#47499991)

Congratulations, Gabriel on figuring that one out!

No limits on storage or security (1)

Joe Gillian (3683399) | about a month ago | (#47500213)

What really disturbs me about this article is how the judge set no limits on how long the police can retain copied emails or how they have to store them. Judging by the way the police act, I wouldn't be surprised if this meant large, permanently-retained NSA style databases of captured emails.

Re:No limits on storage or security (1)

blueg3 (192743) | about a month ago | (#47500711)

Judging by how the police actually operate, a hard drive with that data will be put in a box and put into storage with a large collection of other such boxes, probably never to be seen again.

Re:No limits on storage or security (1)

Sowelu (713889) | about a month ago | (#47502325)

"Top men."

Re:No limits on storage or security (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47502357)

What really disturbs me about this article is how the judge set no limits on how long the police can retain copied emails or how they have to store them. Judging by the way the police act, I wouldn't be surprised if this meant large, permanently-retained NSA style databases of captured emails.

The way it should work is that anything found pertaining to the case it retained (indefinitely) so that it may reviewed later on for appeals, while everything else gets wiped from the police's copy.

Currently not the biggest problem (3, Insightful)

bickerdyke (670000) | about a month ago | (#47500235)

With several gouvernment agencies currently ignoring constitutional rights, specific warrents effecting specifically named persons, issued and overseen by judges, are NOT the biggest threat to privacy.

Case by Case (1)

GenaTrius (3644889) | about a month ago | (#47501211)

It's up to a judge to decide what kind of warrant gets served.If they can authorize the search of a person's home and the arrest of that person, I don't see why they shouldn't be able to authorize the search of a person's full Gmail account if the need arises. As long as it's not a secret court and all due process is followed, then we're doing the best we can. The linked article makes no mention of the details of this court case. We have no idea why this Gmail account is being searched, who the Gmail account belongs to, how the search will be carried out, or how much data this particular Gmail account even contains. There's also no indication that the police will indefinitely retain a copy of the account, as some above have speculated. If they do, THAT is the problem, not the search itself.

It's like searching everywhere you ever lived (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a month ago | (#47502061)

A warrant like this is the equivalent to searching all the houses and apartments and cars and storage lockers you've ever had or anyone in your family or that ever met you ever had.

We fought a Revolution over this.

But Americans today are not made of the metal that would stand up against such things.

Sadly.

Repeat after me: Baaaaaaah!

Unconstitutional (1)

tlambert (566799) | about a month ago | (#47502153)

This is unconstitutional under the fourth amendment.

There is no difference between this type of search and a Writ of Assistance, which is precisely one of the reasons that the U.S. Constitutions Fourth Amendment was written.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Unconstitutional (1)

Sowelu (713889) | about a month ago | (#47502367)

Let's not exaggerate about "no difference". Writs of assistance, and searches in general, back in the revolutionary days were highly disruptive to life and business. If someone copies out your entire gmail folder you probably won't notice it, it's not like they'll be taking up space and getting in your way and throwing your files around as you try to read it yourself. They were even used to gain entrance to a place and trash it under the guise of a search.

I'm not making a value judgment on the merits of this case or whether it's reasonable or not, but you are drawing a false equivalency. Seizing all of a person's electronics equipment or servers is a much closer analogy. Non-destructive copying with zero downtime is not.

Slippery Slope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47502535)

If they had a warrant to search a home for a missing television, they could look inside a closet and may find all sorts of other things, even though they were only searching for a TV.

I would say that a single user accounts entire Gmail could be searched but still only for specific texts, otherwise it's a fishing expedition.

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