Moral Low Ground

Economy

Google: No Expectation of Privacy for Gmail Users

Gmail privacyUsers who send or receive information via Google’s Gmail should not expect their messages to remain private, the Internet giant argued in a court motion seeking the dismissal of a class-action lawsuit.

CNET reports the 39-page motion, filed in June in an attempt to have a class-action data mining lawsuit dismissed, cites Smith v. Maryland, a 1979 US Supreme Court decision that upheld the warrantless collection of electronic communications.

“Just as the sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if the emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.'”

In the current class-action complaint against Google, the plaintiffs argue that Google’s automated email scanning is an illegal and non-consensual interception of their communications. Google counters that users accept such intrusion in exchange for email services. Courts, the tech giant argues, have found that email users “necessarily give implied consent to the automated processing of their emails.”

“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, said in a statement. “People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy, don’t use Gmail.”

Simpson compared sending email to “giving a letter to the Post Office.”

“I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope,” Simpson said. “I don’t expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it. Similarly, when I send an email, I expect it to be delivered to the intended recipient with a Gmail account based on the email address; why would I expect its content to be intercepted by Google and read?”

In 2009, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told CNBC that the company needed to comply with the USA Patriot Act, which was passed in reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and significantly weakened restrictions on government and law enforcement ability to monitor communications.

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” Schmidt infamously opined.

The issue of email privacy has taken center stage of late, largely due to the Edward Snowden case. Snowden, a former NSA employee, is wanted by the US for leaking classified documents about government surveillance practices.

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