As the company behind one of the first transparency reports, Google has often said it works toward more transparency surrounding government data requests, but a Monday letter to the company's CEO Eric Schmidt from WikiLeaks exposed the search engine provider as having waited more than two and a half years to let WikiLeaks staffers know their data had been handed over to the U.S. government in response to a secret search warrant.
Google notified the staffers of the data collection on December 23, 2014, after initially serving the warrants in March 2012, according to The Guardian. The tech company reportedly couldn't disclose the search warrant execution to its subjects because of a gag order.
“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,” said the letter, signed by Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and attorneys for the targets of the warrants - Sarah Harrison, investigations editor of WikiLeaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, spokesperson, and Joseph Farrell, senior editor.
The letter also requested a copy of the court order with which Google complied, a list of the material the company disclosed or gave to law enforcement, as well as information on whether Google initiated any legal challenges before complying with the warrants.
“We certainly would expect Google to give an explanation to journalists after the provider waited over two and a half years to notify them that it handed their information over to the government,” Carey Shenkman, a First Amendment attorney working for Ratner in New York City who signed the letter, said in a statement emailed to SCMagazine.com.
The letter compared Twitter's efforts in challenging search warrant requests to Google's apparent failure to do so. This possible lack of scrutiny prohibited the WikiLeaks' staffers from intervening and protecting their interests, including their “rights to privacy, association and freedom from illegal searches,” the letter said.[An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Michael Ratner as "professor emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights" instead of "president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights."]