Google Ordered To Release Foreign Emails To Comply With FBI Data Request

Can the FBI access your email if it is on a foreign server? Google was recently ordered by a United States judge to release emails stored on foreign mail servers to the FBI. The communications are possibly related to a domestic fraud case.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter in Philadelphia ruled that transferring emails from a foreign server to the FBI does not count as seizure. He contended that the email transfer did not create any “meaningful interference” with the account holder’s “possessory interest”. Furthermore, Judge Reuter insisted that any privacy infringement occurs “at the time of disclosure in the United States,” not when the information is transferred.


Judge Reuter’s ruling goes against the precedent set by the state of New York this past July. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York argued that Microsoft could not be forced to transfer emails from its server in Dublin to the FBI. Many groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, applauded the Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision.

Both Microsoft and Google’s cases involved warrants issued under the 1986 Stored Communications Act. The Stored Communications Act states the government can order a search warrant for electronic communications that have been stored for more than 180 days or are "held solely for the purpose of providing storage or computer processing services". Many people consider the act to be outdated and a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment which protects the people's right "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures".

google headquarters

Google representatives noted that emails are often broken up in order to improve a network’s performance. The company does not always know where portions of the email are stored and believe that they obeyed the warrant by turning in information on their American servers. Google plans to appeal the decision and “push back on overboard warrants.”