WikiLeaks on Monday criticized Google for failing to swiftly inform the secrets-spilling group about U.S. search warrants issued seeking emails and other personal information from three of its staff.
The warrants, issued in March 2012, required the Internet giant to hand over the phone numbers, IP addresses, credit card details, contents of all emails and other details for Google accounts used by Sarah Harrison, Kristinn Hrafnsson and Joseph Faerrell.
The existence of the warrants, which cite an espionage, fraud and conspiracy investigation, was disclosed to WikiLeaks in December.
“We are astonished and disturbed that Google waited over two and a half years to notify its subscribers that a search warrant was issued for their records,” WikiLeaks’ lawyer Michael Ratner said in a letter to Google chairman Eric Schmidt that was published online Monday.
The letter adds that Twitter took legal action in order to alert WikiLeaks of a similar warrant in 2011.
Google spokesperson Aaron Stein said in an email Monday that their policy is to tell people about government requests for their data, except in limited cases, “like when we are gagged by a court order, which sadly happens quite frequently.”
“We’ve challenged many orders related to WikiLeaks which has led to disclosures to people who are affected,” said Stein. “We’ve also pushed to unseal all the documents related to the investigation. We continue to argue for surveillance reform which would enable us to be more transparent.”
He did not say whether Google tried, legally, to unseal the records.
“We don’t know if Google tried to litigate it or not, but that’s one of our requests to Google,” Ratner, who is with the New York-based Center For Constitutional Rights, said during a news conference.
Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish former judge who now represents WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, said the warrants appeared to be part of a “fishing expedition” by U.S. authorities against the website.
WikiLeaks has repeatedly published sensitive U.S. government documents ranging from classified diplomatic cables to Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports.
Harrison said that while the data handed over by Google wouldn’t have included any internal communication between WikiLeaks staff, U.S. authorities would have been able to gather information about her private life from an old Gmail address.
WikiLeaks said it has requested U.S. prosecutors explain whether the three – none of whom are American citizens – are witnesses, subjects or targets of the investigation.