Posted September 25, 2009 9:46 am by with 11 comments

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It’s bad enough that financial institutions are screwing up our economy, they’re now screwing up our privacy and freedom of speech!

U.S. District Court Judge James Ware, in the northern district of California, just issued a court order forcing Google to shut down a Gmail account and turn over users identity & contact information. The user did nothing wrong!

In fact, this incredible situation is the final outcome of a screw-up by Rocky Mountain Bank…

On Aug. 12, the bank mistakenly sent names, addresses, social security numbers and loan information of more than 1,300 customers to a Gmail address. When the bank realized the problem, it sent a message to that same address asking the recipient to contact the bank and destroy the file without opening it.

When the bank didn’t hear from the Gmail account owner it obtained a court order to force Google’s hand. How absolutely insane!

Likely the first email was marked as spam–hence no reply from the account user–but still, the bank completely screws-up and the poor account holder has all kinds of basic rights violated. What’s next? A banker comes to your house to discuss lending rates, leaves his briefcase behind, you leave for vacation, so a judge rules your house has to be nuked?


Think about it, the Gmail user didn’t even get to prevent this from happening–heck, Google didn’t even contact him/her to see if he wanted to voluntarily comply with the bank’s original request.

Kind of puts recent Gmail outages in perspective, doesn’t it? We shouldn’t be worried about downtime, we should be worried about Google’s "bend over backwards to accommodate the courts" policy.

What if the next judge orders Google to hand over all of your emails, so some bank executive can look through them?


  • It’s scary: the power of Google combined with a legal system that just doesn’t understand technology.


  • I hope this case doesn’t serve as precedent for future cases, but my limited understanding and experience leads me to believe it probably will 🙁

  • I think I will check my spam folder more often! 🙂
    .-= Nate @ Debt-free Scholar´s last blog ..5 Reasons College Students Need To Sleep More =-.

  • Bob

    Would you think this was so crazy if your information including your social security number and loan information was one of the 1300 included in the email. The court was protecting the identities of the 1300 included in the email. I agree with the judge

    • I’m sorry but I disagree. That’s a slippery slope to go down. Violate one person’s rights for the sake of others? What’s next, euthanize someone with the H1N1 virus, to prevent it spreading? Extreme, but that’s where we could end up.

  • The Gmail user’s refusal to respond to the bank’s inquiry could have easily prevented all this weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    So let’s say that a bank finally came out on the right side of stupid and yet another Gmail user came out on the wrong side of stupid and leave it at that.

    Okay? Okay.

    • You’re assuming that the Gmail user refused to respond. How do we know he/she ever actually saw any of the emails? How many times do legitimate emails end up in your spam folder?

  • Jorn

    I’m terrified by this. Lets imagine this happened offline- the bank snailmailed a CD containing said data (or even, eugh, hardcopy) to the wrong address. They realize their mistake, attempt to contact the accidental recipient, and when they don’t hear back (though the linked article didn’t reveal the timeframe between accidental sending and requesting court order) the court orders the innocent person’s house burnt down in order to safeguard the bank’s data.

    That’s not what our justice system is for.

    And yes, I do equate this to burning down a person’s house because, not only was google forced to disclose this person’s private information, they were forced to shut down the account, which means the holder of the account can no longer use it for any of the legitimate purposes for which it was created. All of the people who used that address to contact him can no longer do so. If he’s looking for work and that address is on his resume, someone trying to contact him to offer him a job will be unable to do so.

    Think about it. This could easily happen to you.

    How often do you accidentally get a neighbors mail? or someone else entirely? (For myself, it’s several times a week- I live at 6 roadname, apt 12, and I’m constantly getting mail thats meant for a business at 612 roadname) Do you think it’s right to have police breaking down your door because the mailman put a letter in the wrong mailbox?

    But, in this specific case, gmail is a free service, and Google has the right to discontinue that service for any reason, and if your email is really important to you, you’re going to have to pay to host your own mail. My hosting provider wouldn’t just turn over my information or disable my account, but then, it’s a paid service, not a free one.

  • Elliott Lewis

    You got your facts wrong. Google is attempting to contact the user and said they will not comply with the court order until the user has the opportunity to agree or file motion to prevent the order.

    It’s important that you fact check before you write. Your misrepresentation of the facts will cause people to assume the wrong conclusion about Google.

    • It would be helpful if you could point us to something that confirms that, because I didn’t find any comment from Google.

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