Reports have just emerged that Google handed over to the US government all the emails and other communications that it had on three staffers of WikiLeaks under a secret search warrant issued by a federal judge. They did this nearly three years ago but only revealed it recently.
The court orders cast a data net so wide as to ensnare virtually all digital communications originating from or sent to the three. Google was told to hand over the contents of all their emails, including those sent and received, all draft correspondence and deleted emails. The source and destination addresses of each email, its date and time, and size and length were also included in the dragnet.
The FBI also demanded all records relating to the internet accounts used by the three, including telephone numbers and IP addresses, details of the time and duration of their online activities, and alternative email addresses. Even the credit card or bank account numbers associated with the accounts had to be revealed.
Alexander Abdo, a staff attorney and privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the warrants were “shockingly broad” in their catch-all wording.
“This is basically ‘Hand over anything you’ve got on this person’,” he said. “That’s troubling as it’s hard to distinguish what WikiLeaks did in its disclosures from what major newspapers do every single day in speaking to government officials and publishing still-secret information.”
The WikiLeaks warrants cite alleged violations of the 1917 Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – the same statutes used to prosecute Manning. The data seizures were approved by a federal magistrate judge, John Anderson, who a year later issued the arrest warrant for the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder and editor-in-chief, said the search warrants were part of a “serious, and seriously wrong attempt to build an alleged ‘conspiracy’ case against me and my staff”. He said that in his view the real conspiracy was “Google rolling over yet again to help the US government violate the constitution – by taking over journalists’ private emails in response to give-us-everything warrants”.
It seems clear that the US government did this as part of its plan to indict Julian Assange and other WikiLeaks people, likely under the infamous Espionage Act, and they are simply waiting for the opportunity to seize him if he should ever leave the safety of the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Assange’s defense team is planning to take the matter up with the United Nations human rights council.
Meanwhile, other reports reveal that the British wquivalent of the NSA the GCHQ has intercepted
GCHQ’s bulk surveillance of electronic communications has scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the US and UK’s largest media organisations, analysis of documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.
Emails from the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, the Sun, NBC and the Washington Post were saved by GCHQ and shared on the agency’s intranet as part of a test exercise by the signals intelligence agency.
The journalists’ communications were among 70,000 emails harvested in the space of less than 10 minutes on one day in November 2008 by one of GCHQ’s numerous taps on the fibre-optic cables that make up the backbone of the internet.
All these things are clearly meant as warnings to journalists that if they even think about reporting on anything that might not please the governments of the US and UK, that the governments have the power to wreak retribution on them with the leak of confidential information, not unlike the blackmail tactics of J. Edgar Hoover.
Of course, the US and UK governments will continue to sanctimoniously preach to other countries about how important freedom of the press is and that journalists must not be targeted for government harassment.