(Adds background on debate, comment from privacy expert)
By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, July 18 A federal judge in New York
has granted prosecutors access to a Gmail user's emails as part
of a criminal probe, a decision that could fan the debate over
how aggressively the government may pursue data if doing so may
invade people's privacy.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein said Friday he had
authorized a warrant to be served on Google Inc for
the emails of an unnamed individual who is the target of a money
Gorenstein said his decision ran counter to several other
judges' rulings in similar cases that sweeping warrants give the
government improper access to too many emails, not just relevant
But he said the law lets investigators review broad swaths
of documents to decide which are covered by warrants.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
The ruling came three months after U.S. Magistrate Judge
James Francis in New York said prosecutors can force Microsoft
Corp to hand over a customer's email stored in an
Ireland data center.
Microsoft has appealed, in what is seen as the first
challenge by a company to a warrant seeking data stored
Companies including Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T
Inc, Cisco Systems Inc and Apple Inc
have filed briefs in support of Microsoft, as has the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group. A hearing is set for
July 31 before U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in New York.
The government's ability to seize personal information has
grown more contentious since former National Security Agency
contractor Edward Snowden leaked secret documents in June 2013
to media outlets outlining the agency's massive data collection
In June, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled police
generally need a warrant to search an arrested suspect's
cellphone, citing privacy concerns.
Gorenstein's ruling joined a public debate playing out among
several magistrate judges, who typically handle warrant
requests. It is unusual to issue lengthy opinions on such
matters particularly when, as in Gorenstein's case, the judge
approves the application.
In April, John Facciola, a magistrate in Washington, D.C.,
rejected a warrant for the Apple email account of a defense
contractor as part of a kickback investigation, one of several
similar opinions he has authored recently.
Last year, a Kansas magistrate denied warrant applications
for emails and records at Google, Verizon, Yahoo! Inc,
Microsoft unit Skype and GoDaddy in a stolen computer equipment
Both judges said the warrants were overly broad.
On the other hand, several U.S. appeals courts have rejected
motions to suppress such searches, Gorenstein said.
Hanni Fakhoury, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, applauded Gorenstein for explaining his reasoning in
writing, though he said he disagreed with the analysis.
"The more voices and opinions we can add to the discussion,
the better," he said in an email.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Richard Chang)