back to article Google faces $10k-a-day fines if it defies court order to hand over folks' private overseas email

Google and the American government are quarreling over just how much money the Chocolate Factory must pay in daily fines if it loses its war against a search warrant for email held overseas. The Mountain View giant is refusing to comply with the warrant, issued in the US, requiring it to cough up Gmail messages held on a …

  1. NanoMeter

    How nice of them

    $10K is less than pocket change for MS.

    1. Credas Silver badge

      Re: How nice of them

      True; but what does MS have to do with this particular story?

      1. Graham Dawson

        Re: How nice of them

        It's getting difficult to tell google and microsoft apart these days.

        1. RyokuMas Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: How nice of them

          "It's getting difficult to tell google and microsoft apart these days."

          Simple - Google's software has been built with spying in mind from the get-go, Microsoft are trying to retrofit it and that's why we keep getting these updates.

      2. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

        Re: How nice of them @Credas

        Possibly because MS are in a similar battle elsewhere, in that case the emails are on a server in Ireland. I really can't remember whose turn it is to appeal the last decision in that case but the next step is the supremes. Not Diana Ross and co, the other supremes.

        1. bluesxman
          Trollface

          Re: It's been awhile (thankfully!) ...

          Chicken?

          1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

            Re: It's been awhile (thankfully!) ...

            Vermin.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How nice of them

      Its nothing but a show fight to reduce customer distrust and suspicion. Same es Microshaft.

      Google is getting paid for its cooperation with the NSA.

      Making it look like the banks and corporations that control the U.S. Government through the CFR is actually fighting that same government is only believable if you never read the University of Princeton's study on the true form of government in present day America (Plutocracy).

      For one thing, the "country" United States of America doesn't exist anymore since the civil war.

      We're dealing with the "United States corporation", which is a company registered in Delaware, the truth of which can be verified by anyone.

      For another, look at the word "government":

      GOVERN = control, regulate

      MENT = mind

      So, government = mind control...

  2. steward
    Pirate

    Maybe the company should relocate

    "The government, meanwhile, countered that the messages can be accessed remotely from Google HQ in Mountain View, California, USA"

    If Google even floated a document about relocating to the Republic of Ireland and getting rid of all its American workers who did not want to relocate as well, the US Government would trip over itself getting rid of the warrants.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Maybe the company should relocate

      "The government, meanwhile, countered that the messages can be accessed remotely from Google HQ in Mountain View, California, USA"

      So presumably they have an interior security design to Microsoft where such messages apparently cannot be accessed remotely without an approver in the same region as the data?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Maybe the company should relocate

        No Microsoft deliberately made their Eu subsidiaries separate to meet Eu law.

        This is data held by Google for a US customer but it happens to be sitting on a foreign server.

        Much as I hate to side with the DOJ in this case (unlike MSFT) they have a point.

        If a US company eg. Enron / Bernie Madoff / Lehman Bros was allowed to work only with cloud data held remotely then they could tell any US agency with a US warrant or a freedom of information to get lost.

        Any large US company would be totally above the law.

        1. Long John Brass Silver badge

          Re: Maybe the company should relocate

          Any large US company would be totally above the law.

          Wot... You mean they aren't already?

        2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Maybe the company should relocate

          "Any large US company would be totally above the law."

          Where "large" = "big enough to pay a few euros to a "service provider" outside the US.

          If this were legal then in next to no time there would be an industry providing the service at prices that just about anyone could afford.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Maybe the company should relocate

            "If this were legal then in next to no time there would be an industry providing the service at prices that just about anyone could afford."

            Well it works nicely for many a multinationals financial departments

          2. Muscleguy Silver badge

            Re: Maybe the company should relocate

            Here in the UK of course if you for eg have a nice private email provider in Iceland and plod wants to see your emails they will simply make you give up the username and password or else. Else being jail time AND fines until you do.

            No foreign file storage problems here. Now while we're holding your balls, cough.

        3. Credas Silver badge

          Re: Maybe the company should relocate

          If a US company eg. Enron / Bernie Madoff / Lehman Bros was allowed to work only with cloud data held remotely then they could tell any US agency with a US warrant or a freedom of information to get lost.

          In which case the US government could use a Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement, which it has with Ireland BTW, to get access to the data in the foreign country - which is what it should have been doing all along. Just ignoring the law in other countries because it's data and you can isn't that clever an idea in the long term, particularly when it's unnecessary.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Maybe the company should relocate

            which it has with Ireland BTW, to get access to the data in the foreign country

            Yeah, but that means getting warrants from a foreign court rather than the rubber-stamping FISA..

        4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Maybe the company should relocate

          If a US company eg. Enron / Bernie Madoff / Lehman Bros was allowed to work only with cloud data held remotely then they could tell any US agency with a US warrant or a freedom of information to get lost. go through the established procedures to obtain a warrant in the jurisdiction in which the data is held.

          FTFY

          Why is is that this sort of thing keeps coming up in any thread in this general area?

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Maybe the company should relocate

            Because there are lots of jurisdictions that would tell a US warrant to go fsck itself especially if it meant they became a global cloud data center - center.

            Or I could have the data hop around different foreign sites every night, or I could split archived data across different countries to make it almost impossible to work out what warrants where needed

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If the US Government wins it will annihilate the future of American owned email providers.

    Go Go Gov USA!!!

  4. ITS Retired
    Holmes

    The US 'own' the air space over its country.

    That air in that space, moves from West to East, over the Atlantic, across Europe and on across to Russia and China. Therefore the US owns the air over Europe, Russia and China and can charge them for its use.

    Makes as much sense as this BS. Whatever happened to countries sovereignty? When is the rest of the world going to tell the US to take a hike?

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: The US 'own' the air space over its country.

      Whatever happened to countries sovereignty?

      Two words: American Execptionalism.

  5. Pirate Dave
    Pirate

    "Google's parent company, Alphabet, reported $26bn in revenues and $3.52bn in profit last quarter, "

    So after a year, the fine of $3.6million is around 1% of profit? Seems like a reasonable cost to get to tell the US Gubmint spooks to go fuck themselves.

    1. Def Silver badge

      Or 0.1% if you can count. ;)

      1. Pirate Dave
        Pirate

        uh-oh. Yeah, back to school for me.

        1. the spectacularly refined chap

          Or 0.025% if you really can count, although traipsing out annual revenues and comparing them to quarterly profits like that is pretty much guaranteed to create confusion.

          1. Def Silver badge
            Coat

            0.1 vs 0.025

            There comes a point late in the evening, especially when you are sleep deprived, when these two numbers (and all other numbers for that matter) effectively equal the same value. (It's around this time that most people start waffling on as if they're a few bananas short of a plantation.)

            Or something... :)

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: 0.1 vs 0.025

              they're a few bananas short of a plantation

              Or, in my case, a few glasses short of a bottle. Something which I intend to start rectifying in a few hours..

      2. JLV Silver badge
        Headmaster

        0.025% even ;-)

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Or zero since they can presumably write this off as a business expense against tax?

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "So after a year, the fine of $3.6million is around 1% of profit? Seems like a reasonable cost to get to tell the US Gubmint spooks to go fuck themselves."

      At least until the next election when they can buy themselves a couple of more politicians and have the whole mess disappear.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not make it a fair bet ...

    ... and make the US government pay Google $10K per day if it manages to shoot down the warrant on appeal? After all, if it goes against the gov, it would mean they were trying to pull a fast one - so there must be some punishment.

    No, I am not holding my breath, thank you very much.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Why not make it a fair bet ...

      There is such a thing as "making an honest mistake".

      Note, I'm not saying that's what this case is - I know nothing about it. Just that the "trying to pull a fast one" conclusion does not follow.

      In general, it's not a good idea to punish people for making honest mistakes. It's a way to get a workforce that is increasingly both demoralised and unscrupulous.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why not make it a fair bet ...

        In general, it's not a good idea to punish people for making honest mistakes. It's a way to get a workforce that is increasingly both demoralised and unscrupulous.

        I fully agree - honest mistakes by individuals have to be tolerated, especially by individuals in subordinate positions.

        On the other hand, there should be no such thing as a no-fault mistake by a person or organization which wield an overwhelming coercive power. In an ideal world, all such mistakes should result in some sort of meaningful compensation to the weaker side. If the mistake was innocent, then the compensation should be sufficient. If on the other hand it was malicious, it should be accompanied by criminal penalties - with the penalties being higher than they would have been for somebody not in the position of authority.

        Yes, I know I am dreaming.

      2. nijam Silver badge

        Re: Why not make it a fair bet ...

        > Just that the "trying to pull a fast one" conclusion does not follow.

        Yes, I think it does. It is implicitly impossible for a government agency to make an honest mistake.

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Why not make it a fair bet ...

        There is such a thing as "making an honest mistake".

        Which is why, in proper sports like rugby, the punishments for fouls and 'professional' (ie committed deliberately) fouls is somewhat significant.

  7. Mark 85 Silver badge

    In the lust for more power, logic is the first casualty. The government (and not just the US) tossed logic out the window several decades ago.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The real story...

    This is about the DOJ not wanting for follow established law. Period.

    Quote from previously published articles on the REG:

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    "Microsoft tries to defend Irish servers from US g-men invasion, again

    Appeal begins in Manhattan

    By Richard Chirgwin 9 Dec 2014 at 05:32

    Microsoft is continuing its battle against US demands that it hand over e-mail data stored in Ireland "

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    "Nuh-uh, Google, you WILL hand over emails stored on foreign servers, says US judge

    If you can access them in California, so can the Feds

    By Shaun Nichols in San Francisco 20 Apr 2017 at 22:31

    "The warrant, issued on June 30, 2016, ordered Google to hand over information on a number of specific Gmail accounts, including message content, attachments, metadata, and locational data."

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    If the DOJ needs the emails in another country's through the means of US warrants, in a timely manner because it will jeopardize some massive harm to society, is just BS.

    This issue goes back to at least 2014, if not earlier.

    If the LEO had follow established international law and just got on the phone with LEO in Ireland prior to December, 2014, they would already have the emails in hand, tried and convict the individuals.

    By the way if the Ireland data center is independent and since no formal requests have been issued in Ireland to stop destruction of files, why can't the local IT dept do a little house cleaning of the servers since most likely these email accounts have inactive for a number years and just delete them? Until they are issued a order from the Irish courts they are not bound by the US Courts to preserve evidence.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: The real story...

      It's probable - no, make that certain - that MS has an actual written policy that states exactly how long emails will be retained on a dormant account. Doing something like that outside of that policy may lay them open to whole new kinds of legal trouble.

  9. DougS Silver badge

    Accessible from Google HQ?

    Isn't pretty much everything accessible from Google HQ? Everything their spiders index all over the world is fair game for the Feds, for a start. Then consider what Google could hack into if they were "properly" motivated, by say a $10 million/day fine rather than that puny $10K/day fine.

  10. Nick Z

    Mail held overseas probably belongs to a non-US citizen

    If the US government starts using US companies to extend its jurisdiction to other countries, then these US companies won't be so welcome in other countries anymore.

    At least some countries will probably protect their sovereignty by prohibiting their citizens from using online services of US companies.

    1. JLV Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Mail held overseas probably belongs to a non-US citizen

      a.k.a. killing the golden goose.

      mind you, this particular goose is probably paying most of its taxes at special Republic of Ireland no-local-profits rates...

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Mail held overseas probably belongs to a non-US citizen

        "this particular goose is probably paying most of its taxes at special Republic of Ireland no-local-profits rates"

        Its US employees are probably paying taxes at standard US rates, however, and spending their after-tax income moslty buying goods and services in the US.

        And the company will be buying goods and services in the US for its own use. Why do you think Ireland can afford to set its corporation tax so low?

    2. RegW

      Re: Mail held overseas probably belongs to a non-US citizen

      > If the US government starts using US companies to extend its jurisdiction to other countries ...

      The article says:

      > the messages can be accessed remotely from Google HQ in Mountain View, California, USA, so, basically, you can bet your ass it's under US jurisdiction.

      Which would imply that it doesn't have to be a US company, just that the content is accessible from somewhere in the US. Of course, if this is deemed to be legal, then the opposite could also be assumed to be true. That content on servers within the US, which could be accessed from elsewhere (say Google's Moscow office), would be legally accessible in those jurisdictions.

  11. davenewman

    Why is Google being fined for contempt of court when they have a pending appeal? Normally appeals put a stay on all decisions until the matter is finally settled?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I think, as is often the case, the fines are not actually being paid pending the appeal. All Google needs to do is to demonstrate its ability to be able to pay the accumulated fines, or, failing that, put the money in escrow.

  12. rtb61

    The Law

    Google are trapped by a corrupt court system in the US. They can not comply without breaking laws in other countries, they have rules about search warrants as well and it US court is telling Google to break those laws, which could land google staff in those locations with custodial sentences.

    Basically the US has to extradite that data if they want it but apparantly that court in the US could simply not be bothered to deal with all that legal red tape, laws smaws, they want it now.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The Law

      They can be guilty of contempt if they did it deliberately.

      If I copy all my failed clinical trial data to Borat-istan and then claim I can't say how many patients died because that would be against Borat-istan data privacy laws - you can bet the FDA is going to take a dim view.

      1. Chairo

        Re: The Law

        If I copy all my failed clinical trial data to Borat-istan and then claim I can't say how many patients died because that would be against Borat-istan data privacy laws - you can bet the FDA is going to take a dim view.

        The case is a bit different, however. It is not Google's data we are talking about. It is someone else's data that the Irish branch of Google stores for a third party.

        The sensible move would be to force the data owner to hand over his data. If the owner cannot be forced for whatever reasons, then the US court should request the Irish authorities to support in this case.

        The US is trying to use the market power of their multinational companies as a lever to support their policies and circumvent proper procedure.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The Law

      "Google are trapped by a corrupt court system in the US."

      The word you are looking for here isn't "corrupt", it's "arrogant".

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: The Law

        The word you are looking for here isn't "corrupt", it's "arrogant".

        It's not a binary choice..

  13. Bob Dole (tm)
    Go

    Cost of doing business

    Google should just advertise that they are going to continue defying the US government on this until the end of time. The new revenue they would get from more people paying for mailboxes would easily eclipse the daily fines.

    Oh, and they should just go ahead buy their own island, setup their own government and move corp hq. That way they could be done with the bullshit. I don’t doubt that most of their employees would happily go to a company owned country.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Cost of doing business

      Good luck defending that country against the US. Good luck persuading the majority of UN members (who have plenty of their bolshy citizens) to recognise the country and thereby set a precedent that a bolshy citizen can just up-sticks and declare independence.

      Maybe move to Catalonia?

    2. pxd

      Re: Cost of doing business

      @ Bob Dole - I downvoted you because I reckon 38 seconds after Google moved to their hypothetical island, they'd be taken over by whatever weapon-bearing group got there first. A series of counter takeovers would then ensue, yadda yadda. Google wouldn't survive long outside the US, I think. This dependency of Google and the other mega digital organisations on a fairly benign home environment is overlooked to a certain extent, but shouldn't be forgotten. pxd

  14. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Cheap marketing

    That's very little money for keeping up the idea that data is safe with Google, regardless of how reality looks like.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Cheap marketing

      "the idea that data is safe with Google"

      And also hides the idea that data might need to be safe from Google.

  15. heyrick Silver badge

    if Google's appeal is upheld, the invoice will be torn up.

    Invoice turn up? How about a refund?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So the government can demand access to emails held in a foreign country but for some reason are not allowed to demand access to banking information and account details held in dodgy tax havens? I smell a double standard.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    I'm confused.....

    Lets see how daft the US injustice system is.

    Take this crazy case and move it sideways.

    Put it into a larger perspective.

    Judge: You're sentenced to death for murder (best with a Scottish accent)

    Defendant: I never did it. I want to appeal

    Judge. OK, fair enough.

    Prosecution: Right hang the prisoner, while he awaits his retrial.

    Prisoner: What?

    Executioner: Welcome to the US Justice system sunshine.

  18. batfink
    WTF?

    So your laws apply because the data can be remotely accessed...

    "The messages can be accessed remotely from Google HQ" - wtf? In theory (given the correct credentials), the messages could be accessed from my place as well, due to this new-fangled magic internetty thingy. So, should my local laws also apply, by the same logic? And the Chinese laws? Anywhere else with connectivity?

    All your base are belong to us.

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