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Judge Orders Deleted Emails Turned Over 600

Anonymous Coward writes "In a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission, a subpoena sent to Google orders the turnover of the complete contents of a Gmail account, including deleted e-mail messages. The Judge has granted the subpoena and orders that all e-mail messages, including deleted messages, be divulged. Google's privacy policy says deleted e-mail messages 'may remain in our offline backup systems' in perpetuity. It does not guarantee that backups are ever deleted. So much for the Delete Forever button."
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Judge Orders Deleted Emails Turned Over

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  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Friday March 17, 2006 @12:35PM (#14942322)


    I've maintained before [] that Google retains far too much information to make the use of Gmail anything less than a full-blown privacy nightmare. (For more information, please look here [] and here [].)

    And now, the chickens have come home to roost. From TFA:
    The subpoena asks for not only current e-mail but also deleted e-mail: "All documents concerning all Gmail accounts of Baker...for the period from Jan. 1, 2003, to present, including but not limited to all e-mails and messages stored in all mailboxes, folders, in-boxes, sent items and deleted items, and all links to related Web pages contained in such e-mail messages."
    A stunning victory for the Establishment and a horror show for private citizens everywhere. Welcome to 1984.

    And before you start, please don't object that the person affected is a defendant in a criminal proceeding, because that's quite beside the point. The point is that Google has this information on you, and will hand it over upon request. This vindicates the caterwauling of all the privacy advocates concerning Google and Gmail, and establishes a dangerous legal precedent. Remember, as our 'inalienable' rights are systematically stripped away by the architects of the New World Order, more and more of the things you do become 'illegal'...and subject to criminal It might not be long before you are being referred to as 'defendant'...what will you think of your Gmail account then?
  • by taylor_venable ( 911273 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @12:39PM (#14942356) Homepage
    With everything that's been going on lately, it sounds like the American government really wants to take Google down in the war of public opinion. The gov't just keeps trying to make them look worse and worse. And since the American courts typically just allow the gov't to do whatever it wants, they're winning.
  • U R pwned. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bob Cat - NYMPHS ( 313647 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @12:40PM (#14942365) Homepage
    Hey, I happen to know YOUR company does backups! You deleted your mail from the server, but you didn't hunt down those tapes in the vault, did you? Huh?

    Does NO ONE remember Ollie North and the White House PROFS system? 20 years later, and people still think incriminating data will always just go away when you desire.

  • by benjjj ( 949782 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @12:40PM (#14942370)
    Might Google be under some sort of secret agreement with the gov't to hold on to emails, just for circumstances like these? It really doesn't make much sense from a storage perspective to keep around tons of deleted emails. If I were Google, the Delete Forever button would clear any deleted email off of my very crowded storage systems at the same time that it clears it out of a user's inbox.
  • Please !!!! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by powerlord ( 28156 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @12:40PM (#14942375) Journal
    Someone think of the poor people that will have to read through all the spam that goes through one mailbox!!!

    Heck ... I can picture the defense getting a 80GB archive tape and being told that was all messages recieved. Yes, 99.999% of them are spam. Enjoy.

    Talk about burying the opposition in paperwork.
  • by MyNymWasTaken ( 879908 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @12:45PM (#14942440)
    If you're concerned about your privacy, why are you sending sensitive information in the clear over email; through any provider?

    Use PGP!

    And would you mind telling me how gmail is any different than hotmail or yahoo mail in regards to managent's access to email contents?

    what will you think of your Gmail account then?

    "I refuse to divulge my PGP private key & passphrase."
  • how appropriate! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by corbettw ( 214229 ) <{corbettw} {at} {}> on Friday March 17, 2006 @12:49PM (#14942482) Journal
    Considering my first meeting today was regarding how best to redesign the mail system to make it easier to comply withsubpoenas in the future. Step one of that redesign: turn off the backups!

    Just more proof that the 'e' in email doesn't stand for 'electronic', it's 'evidence'.
  • by Ph33r th3 g(O)at ( 592622 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @01:05PM (#14942650)
    And the very things one deletes can be quite telling, as well.
  • by ShyGuy91284 ( 701108 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @01:07PM (#14942664)
    I was rather concerned with how the speaker on the BBC special about Google stepped around the question about retained search history from users by identifyable means (They didn't say what it was, and I'm not very familiar with web technology, so might be IP or MAC (maybe not), Idk). Emails are one thing, but I think most have googled something they are ashamed of or wouldn't want others knowing about. Yes, they know you searched for "ultra-midgest-fetsh" last night, and may use it in the future against you.
  • by sceptre1067 ( 197404 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @01:09PM (#14942688) Journal
    Does anybody use voice mail provided to them from their cell phone or landline phone provider?

    Where is that data stored?

    Has any telco been ordered by a court to turn over that voice data?

    Just curious...
  • What privacy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frinkacheese ( 790787 ) * on Friday March 17, 2006 @01:12PM (#14942722) Journal

    Look folks.. Privacy simply does not exist. You'll get your search terms read, email copied, if you encrypt you have to give over the keys and if you don't then you get put into prison anyway.

    Your phone will be tapped, mobile will be tracked, cars followed with "traffic enforcement cameras". Your DNA will be on file, biometrics saved and your Underground trips logged.

    Everywhere you go there are CCTV cameras, face recognition. Your purchases are tracked with credit cards, store loyalty cards and RFID tags. Your bank transactions are flagged if they look interesting and the tax people peer into your account looking for money that suddenly appears.

    1984 got here, oh, 22 years ago now...

  • by malchus842 ( 741252 ) <> on Friday March 17, 2006 @01:14PM (#14942744)

    This is why I'm my own ISP (so to speak). I run my own server, and do my own backups, which I retain ONLY for disaster recovery purposes. The system is backed-up each nite, with the backup files copied to another system. After 3 days, the backups are expunged with a secure erase program. It's all automated. It never hits tape, and as such, if I delete something, it's gone.

    I also religiously encrypt outbound email, and ask my correspondants to encrypt mail they send to me.

    Now, don't get me wrong - I don't think this is 100% secure, but it sure beats letting Google/Comcast/AT&T/Earthlink/MSN or whoever determine what gets kept and what doesn't.

    I would never change back - come what may, as long as owning a server is legal, that's how I'm getting my email. And if they try to make it illegal, well, Jefferson told us how to deal with that problem.

  • by MrNougat ( 927651 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `hcstarkc'> on Friday March 17, 2006 @01:53PM (#14943115)
    At a former employer, we moved from a PBX phone system to a VoIP (internal) phone system. In the VoIP system, voicemails were saved as .WAV files to a voice server, and also emailed to the recipient.

    The company I worked for had come under subpoena in the past, and a lot of effort was expended to retrieve the data the subpoena requested. With the PBX, once a voicemail is deleted, it was gone. Not so with the VoIP system - voicemails would be found on the phone server, on mail servers, on workstation email client cache, and anywhere that end users decided to save the WAV files - and any backup tapes for the above. If another subpoena occurred, we may have been responsible to discover, transcribe and deliver information about voicemails going back to the beginning of the VoIP system.

    That would be horrendously expensive. In order to circumvent this, investment was made in a third party system that would strip voicemail files out of everything. They wouldn't be backed up to tape they would be deleted from any system after some time period (30 days?). That way, we could state such in our data retention policy, and any subpoena including voicemails would only go back 30 days, and not forever.

    If you don't have the data, and are destroying it in accordance with a data retention policy, it can't be subpoenaed.

    I know this is all somewhat tangential to your question, but I figured you might find it interesting.
  • by Slightly Askew ( 638918 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @02:02PM (#14943179) Journal
    "I refuse to divulge my PGP private key & passphrase."

    That's ok, we'll just subpoena you're personal computer, PDA, desk, cell phone, etc. to find your private key. I'm sure there's a copy of it around here somewhere.

    Oh, and this is Jack Bauer. He'll be asking you for your passphrase in Holding Room B.

  • by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @02:02PM (#14943185) Homepage
    Well, I'm pretty sure this issue hasn't come before the Supreme Court yet, but here is what Christopher Soghoian of Johns Hopkins has to say:

    When the government comes across encrypted data in the course of an
    investigation, they are presented with several options that force them to choose between
    prosecuting that individual and having access to the encrypted data:
    1. They can send the encrypted data to the NSA for brute-force decryption.
    However, one wonders why the government was able to crack the encryption used
    by two terrorists in time to foil their plots, but was not able to decrypt Mitnick's
    data during the four years he was held in jail. One would presume that a hacker
    who gained access to NORAD's networks would pose enough of a threat to
    warrant the NSA's involvement.
    2. They can offer immunity to the suspect. Once given immunity, the defendant
    loses 5th Amendment protections against self-incrimination and can then be forced
    by a judge to disclose the keys to the encrypted data.
    3. They can attempt to build a case against him without the encrypted data, and deny
    him access to that data for his defense case. crypto.pdf []
  • by Hollins ( 83264 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @02:15PM (#14943336) Homepage
    Like any responsible data company, they don't want you to lose important data... so they back it up. Independently. Into offline storage. And when you click the "delete forever" button, your message is not magically removed from media that is not connected to the system.

    I'm not buying it. Here's a way to test your theory. Delete an email message with a large pdf attachment. Wait a few days and contact Google. Tell them you had a hard drive failure and a message you deleted contained the only copy of your Ph.D. thesis. Beg, plead, cajole. Offer them anything.

    I'll bet you a beer you won't get the message back. Google's long-term data retention policies have nothing to do with altruistic measures to protect users from data loss.

  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @02:54PM (#14943715)
    A supposition.

    But not one made completely off the cuff.

    What's the point of matching ads to messages you've already deleted; meaning you will never display them again?

    Matching ads to *them* nothing. But they don't match ads based on the content of a single message; its based on the aggregate information you have, fine tuned by whats in a particular message.

    If I receive 200 messages about vampire bats and then you send me a "Hey! Whats up?" they can show me some ads about bats, because nothing else is more relevant, and they know i like bats.

    If you send me a "Hey! You need a bat?" They can show me some ads for the winged bats instead of the wooden ones... because from the profiling they know what kind of bats I like.


    I agree deleted messages might have less value than messages I want to keep, but perhaps not... some people delete practically everything. Suppose I'm a big stereo buff, and am always corresponding with various online stores about bits; and after buying a component I delete the bulk of the pre-sales correspondance. Suppose also that I keep all the birthday pictures my family sends me... my profile if they only looked at what I kept would, after a few years be a whole lot of birthday pics, and few recent inquiries about stereo components -- suggesting I'm much more interested in birthdays (and might be in the market for party hats, flowers, cakes, etc), and not stereos, which make up the bulk of my correspondance. Deleting messages clearly skews the accuracy of the profile.

    If they wanted to process them for their "profile" they would already have done that.

    When they improve their profiling algorithms they'll want to run it against the original data.

    It seems more likely to me that Google does intend to delete trashed messages, but just doesn't want to promise exactly when they'll get around to it.

    Definately a possiblity. Likely for most ISPs. I'm not convinced its nearly as likely for google.

    But as you said, perhaps we'll learn from this case.

  • by DaveJay ( 133437 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @03:28PM (#14943960)
    Okay, so let's say we did want to send emails to a small group of people without it coming back to haunt us. This is a lot of work, but then, if you want to do something illegal, you'll probably consider it reasonable.

    First: set up a computer on a residential connection that sends all logs to /dev/null (after you finish setting it up, of course -- heh) and only offers one outward-facing service: ssh.

    Second: set up local accounts for all the people you want to communicate with, and limit them reading their mail locally via ssh only.

    Third: Show each user how to read the email by sshing into the machine and reading the text mails with vi, or with mutt, or some other command-line emailer.

    Fourth: Create an iso that can be used to set the box back up from scratch to the current config, and that performs the install without user intervention, and employs a disk-wiping mechanism during the install.

    Fifth: Set the computer to boot from CD first, and a cron job to reboot the machine every night at 2am.

    Now you can happily send email to each other all day long. Every evening, the box reboots, wipes itself, and reloads everything, so mail isn't stored locally for more than 22 hours or so, limiting the amount of incriminating evidence on the machine. Even if the machine's traffic is captured and stored, the encryption is via ssh, so you can't provide your private key for decryption -- there isn't one.

    Your only real concerns now are ssh exploits, weak passwords, and your cohorts cut and pasting content from the ssh session onto their local computer. But then, if they'd do that, there are probably lots of other ways they're screwing up the heist. ;)

    Also, having never actually done anything like this, it's pure speculation. Someone tell me why it won't work. :)
  • by jred ( 111898 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @05:44PM (#14945092) Homepage
    Just send all "private" emails like this...

    First line is "I hate your fucking guts"

    Then the attachment of goatse/tubgirl, which contains the real message...

    I mean, who the fuck is going to spend a lot of time staring at tubgirl???
  • by tacokill ( 531275 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @05:50PM (#14945135)
    When the NSA goes datamining, they divide the intercepted traffic into two piles: clear and encrypted. Both piles get processed. Except yours has a red flag next to it.

    Ridiculous! Do you really think that the NSA is trying to crack ALL encrypted traffic? Yes, I know about the "spying on americans" issue and all that. But think about it from a labor standpoint.

    There are many many "normal" uses of encryption that go on every single day.
    - SSH
    - SSL
    - PGP
    - VPN

    If you think the NSA is looking at every single packet and "marking" them based on whether they are encrypted or not, I think you are mistaken. Think of all the legit traffic that is encrypted. It's a bunch. A whole bunch. And not even the NSA has the resources to parse through all of it, much less analyze it in any form.
  • by cperciva ( 102828 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @06:58PM (#14945605) Homepage
    3. More conventional computer power than the rest of the world combined. (Extremely unlikely.)

    I'll agree that the NSA certainly doesn't have more general purpose computing power than the rest of the world combined, but I suspect that they may have more special purpose computing power. The NSA uses a lot of custom hardware and has access to significant microprocessor fabrication capacity, and when you're looking at integer factorization, it's not unreasonable to expect a hundred-fold increase in performance when going from general purpose hardware to custom circuitry.

    I would personally be very surprised if the NSA were unable to factor several 1024-bit composites per day.
  • by Bios_Hakr ( 68586 ) <> on Friday March 17, 2006 @07:33PM (#14945756)
    Something like this happened to a friend of mine. We were in the military, living on-base in an overseas location. He was probably into some bad shit; we all were back then. Before we knew it was bad we were portscanning and mailbombing people just because it was "fun". Anyway...

    So, he gets charged with some violation of some regulation. They come in and seize two desktops, a laptop, a printer, a monitor, KVM, and anything else computer related. They even took the keyboard and mouse. They took his fucking CD player because it "could be used to hold a data CD". Well, the data was protected with some kind of encryption. I don't know if he used PGP or MagicFolders; but something to obfuscate the data was in-place.

    After 4 months, we still hadn't heard anything from the cops. We started calling the lawyers trying to find out what was happening. They basicly responded that the case was on-hold pending collection of evidince.

    Well, 14 months later, he was scheduled to move to another base. They refused to let him because they still had him "under investigation". 20 months later, they refused to let him leave the military (his contract had expired) because he was under investigation.

    They ended up not allowing him to be promoted, not allowing him to move, not allowing him to get out for just over 6 years. All because he wouldn't give up his key.

    26 months *after* he should have been allowed to leave the military, they ordered him to go to Kuait. They also ordered him to take a bunch of Anthrax shots. He refused the shots (they have done some pretty bad things to people) and they gave him a dishonorable discharge a few weeks later.

    The shit of it? The commander promised that they would hold on to his computers till they can read the data. She promised that she'd have her best guys look at it every year till they figured it out. She promised that when they found what they were looking for, they'd find him and lock him up in a military prison.
  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @10:46PM (#14946405) Journal
    I was in full agreement up until: "...much less analyze it in any form"

    If I were a spook I would not want to figure out every message coursing through the interwebs, I would be more interested in tracking who is talking to whom. That way when I decide to piss all over peoples privacy I could seize and decrypt the accounts of the evil-doers and all their mates at slashdot. - The eternal problem that is easy to spot, is who decides what constitues evil? Are there non-binary levels of "evil", and if so what are they?

    OTOH: This kind of social network monitoring and analysis has dismantled extremly vile networks involving child tourtue and sexual abuse of toddlers. Most notably in the mid 90's in Denmark where some very high profile Danes were implicated in an international child abuse network. The result in Denmark was public revultion with thousands of people attending mass protests.

    How many people would peacfully tolerate privacy protection for that kind of activity sent over a global public network for profit? Should we refuse to employ bomb sniffing dogs to monitor snail mail because the dog might pick on an innocent package?

    From anarchists all the way across the political spectrum to 1984, the spanish inquisition and the crucifiction of Christ, every one of us looks for nirvana in a personal "book of rules", this "nirvana rule book" only exists within the deluded individual's mind. The fact that "nirvana for all" can not be discovered through a single "book of rules" does not slow humanities enthusiaim for writing "rule books" and forcefully applying varying interpretations on to everyone they encounter. I'm not saying human nature is wrong, it just "is".

    BTW: "1984" is a brilliantly insightfull book, "Animal Farm" is equally as brilliant and in my mind closer to the "truth" about ourselves.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"