Google has been taking steps to make sure their data isn’t abused in search, admitting to the loss of data responsive to a 2016 search warrant and agreeing to a number of other changes. They’ve also agreed on new reporting obligations and an Independent Compliance Professional.
Google is finally coming to the DOJ’s aid in its fight against law enforcement. They submitted a voluntary stipulation and agreement today, which provides access to data responsive to a search warrant from 2016.
In the first of its kind resolution Google has agreed to reform and upgrade its legal process compliance program. This will ensure timely and complete responses to legal process, such as subpoenas, search warrants, and SCA requests. To monitor the company’s compliance with their legal obligations, an Independent Compliance Professional will be retained.
The Department of Justice’s Criminal Division would like to remind companies that it will not hesitate to prosecute and bring offenders to justice. Companies should comply with court orders and work with the Justice Department to ensure safety and public safety.
In this case, the warrant at issue was crucial to a significant criminal investigation. This agreement will help to ensure that Google preserves the technical capability and resources necessary to comply with those warrants in the future.
In 2016, the United States obtained a search warrant in the Northern District of California for data held at Google related to the investigation of the criminal cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e. The warrant was issued under the Stored Communications Act, which requires providers such as Google to disclose customer communications when served with a warrant signed by a judge and supported by probable cause.
In 2018, Congress passed legislation clarifying that the SCA does indeed reach data that U.S. providers choose to store overseas. However, before these changes were made, data responsive to the warrant was lost during litigation that began in 2017.
In resolving their lawsuit with the department, Google agreed to make a variety of improvements and updates to their legal document compliance program. These changes will ensure that they take on their responsibilities under the SCA, which includes responding to court orders they are lawfully required to answer. They’ll also put a lot into hiring new people and securing engineering support.
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Google has pledged to increase their response time to search warrants, which will be made available to the government at request. The company has also pledged to improve tools that will retrieve data from Google searches in response to subpoenas or legal process, and has vowed to develop plans for responses to new product releases.
The agreement provides that an Independent Compliance Professional will evaluate Google’s assessment of its compliance with the enhancements set forth in the agreement. Pursuant to the agreement and in consultation with the Independent Compliance Professional, Google will assemble periodic reports and updates regarding its compliance. These reports will be provided to the government, Google’s Compliance Steering Committee and Audit and Compliance committee.
Google has revealed that it has spent more than $90 million on improvements to its legal process compliance program, and admitted that it is still meeting their target for takedowns.
The United States has not accessed any user data under the agreement. Rather, it solely provides protection of that information.
The two attorneys, from the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and from Corporate and Securities Fraud Section Chief Lloyd Farnham, who negotiated the agreement on behalf of the government.