Soghoian: Google chooses lesser metadata privacy protection for Google Voice

Tools

Google interprets a grey area of the law to give a lesser degree of privacy protection to Google Voice users, says American Civil Liberties Union privacy researcher Chris Soghoian.

In a Jan. 8 article, Soghoian notes that current law requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant or another type of court order to obtain the metadata associated with Internet communications, such as the identity of whom a communication is sent to and when it was transmitted.

U.S. code permits law enforcement to obtain similar data for telephone calls with just a subpoena. The grey area stems from whether text messages should be classified as an Internet or telephone technology. In cases where text is transmitted between Internet servers, Soghoian says there's no ambiguity. It arises when an Internet service, such as Google Voice, relies on a telephone carrier's short message service server to reach the recipient.

In that latter case, an Internet services company must choose which legal privacy protection to apply to text messages – and Google has chosen the lesser subpoena standard for Google Voice message metadata, Soghoian says, citing an affidavit (.pdf) from a 2012 federal drug case.

When contacted, Google responded with a potboiler statement, Soghoian writes, opening itself up to criticism for lack of transparency. He says Twitter and Facebook responded with statement that when mobile users send texts delivered through SMS, they require a court order before turning over metadata.

Proposed updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act wouldn't increase privacy protections of metadata generated either through telephone or Internet communications. Soghoian adds.

For more:
- read Soghoian's article

Related Articles:
Data of European citizens stored in cloud at risk from U.S. agencies, say Dutch researchers
FTC: Mobile app industry failing on privacy disclosures in kids' apps
Senate Judiciary approves ECPA privacy amendment