Do the police need a warrant to read your email? Believe it or not, two decades into the Internet age, the answer to that question is still “maybe.” It depends on how old the email is, where you keep it — and it even depends on whom you ask.
Some big-name tech companies are now asking Congress to step in and clarify Americans’ online privacy rights.
If you do run afoul of the law and you happen to be one of the millions of people who use Gmail then cops will likely be directing their inquiries to the legal department at Google, in Mountain View, Calif.
This building has the same college-dorm feel as the rest of the Google campus: a pool table, free food, young people in T-shirts. But that doesn’t mean they’re not busy. Every month, Google gets about 1,000 government requests for user data.
“We get agents calling us on the phone,” says Richard Salgado, senior counsel at Google. “We get faxes and emails and snail mail. Sometimes we’ll have an investigator show up in the lobby with a piece of paper.”
Salgado says most law enforcement requests are legitimate, and Google complies promptly. But there are times when Google says “not so fast.”
“My view and Google’s view is that for the government to compel a provider to disclose the content of private communications, they need to get a search warrant,” Salgado says.