Federal prosecutors want Google Inc. sanctioned for refusing to hand over government-sought emails stored on its overseas servers, according to documents filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
In a motion seeking a contempt hearing, Department of Justice attorneys said Google “deliberately disobeyed orders from this Court and courts across the country” by declaring a favorable ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit “was the law of the land.”
“Google had the right to challenge the warrant,” the prosecutors wrote. “But Google did not have the right to usurp the role of the court by willfully disobeying the warrant before seeking and receiving judicial guidance.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg last month ordered Google to comply with a 2016 warrant issued under the Stored Communications Act for contents in 22 email accounts. The search engine giant had argued that it was not required to do so because of a ruling, handed down 12 days after Google received the warrant, by the Second Circuit siding with Microsoft Corp. on similar issues.
A spokesman for Google said in an email statement that the company is appealing Seeborg’s order and others from judges across the country who ruled similarly. “The discrepancies in court decisions underlines our view that data surveillance laws need to be modernized to safeguard users’ privacy, protect law enforcement’s legitimate need to collect digital evidence and provide clarity,” the spokesman wrote. “We are pleased that a Bill was introduced to Congress last month that addresses many of these issues.”
Despite Seeborg’s favorable ruling, the federal government still wants Google punished. The company should have sought “judicial guidance” in the Northern District case if it intended to use the Second Circuit ruling as a shield, DOJ attorneys wrote. But the company never sought that guidance from the warrant-issuing magistrate or any other Ninth Circuit court, they continued.
In their motion to compel a contempt hearing, prosecutors say they want to know who ordered a “moratorium” on processing search warrants in 2016, “what business reasons” Google had to invoke the Second Circuit ruling as a shield and how much the company spent on “tooling” its international data storage system.
Google had asked Seeborg to find the company in civil contempt but stay any sanctions so it can appeal his Aug. 14 order to turn over the emails. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has refused to stipulate to Google’s request.
“That the Government seeks a hearing does not prevent Google from seeking appellate review after it is sanctioned,” the government’s attorneys wrote. “The Government merely seeks to develop the record here to determine the appropriate sanction for its willful disregard of this Court’s order.”
Google indicated in a court filing last week that it will no longer challenge most new warrants seeking data served overseas.
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