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It may seem like a phishing scam or an update to Gmail’s terms of service. But it could be the only chance you’ll have to stop Google from sharing your personal information with authorities.
Tech companies, which have treasure troves of personal information, have become natural targets for law enforcement and government requests. The industry’s biggest names, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, receive data requests — from subpoenas to National Security Letters — to assist in, among other efforts, criminal and non-criminal investigations as well as lawsuits.
An email like this one is a rare chance for users to discover when government agencies are seeking their data.
In Google’s case, the company typically lets users know which agency is seeking their information.
In one email The Times reviewed, Google notified the recipient that the company received a request from the Department of Homeland Security to turn over information related to their Google account. (The recipient shared the email on the condition of anonymity due to concern about immigration enforcement). That account may be attached to Gmail, YouTube, Google Photos, Google Pay, Google Calendar and other services and apps.
The email, sent from Google’s Legal Investigations Support team, notified the recipient that Google may hand over personal information to DHS unless it receives within seven days a copy of a court-stamped motion to quash the request.
That’s a high bar to clear in a short amount of time, said Paromita Shah, co-founder and executive director of immigration rights law firm Just Futures.
“What Google expects you to do is to quash the subpoena and that would require you to go to federal court,” Shah said. “I’d like to know how many people are gonna have the resources and the understanding that they have only seven days to hire an attorney to quash an ICE subpoena in federal court.”