Hackers Expose Hundreds of Thousands of Documents Containing Subscriber Info Google Turned Over to Law Enforcement
by Dale Chappell
Hackers dug into servers of a hosting company in Texas used by law enforcement and found that hundreds of thousands of documents from more than 200 agencies contained private user data on Google's customers. The so-called “Blueleaks” documents were verified by cybersecurity experts and were never exposed to the public.
Many of the subscribers turned over to law enforcement were flagged for posts supposedly threatening violence or extremist views, associated with the “far right.” But that doesn't mean those users' accounts were shut down or that they were banned by Google from any of its platforms, including YouTube, Gmail, and others.
One user made threats against a police officer who ran down a woman with his car. The user posted that there's a “need to walk into his house in his sleep and shoot his children” (sic). A post by another user threatened, “I'm going to shoot his daughter in the face,” talking about the Asian doctor who reportedly allowed the coronavirus to spread.
Instead of banning these users, Google turned over their information to law enforcement to handle. “In a moment of reckoning on the failure of police to keep people safe, it is reckless for Google to hand off private user information to law enforcement,” says Steven Renderos, executive director of MediaJustice. “While the prevalence of hateful activities across Google owned platforms is a real problem, deflecting responsibility to the police is not the solution.”
The Google documents containing the subscriber information were signed by the company's CyberCrime Investigation Group, whose reports are regularly part of criminal investigations. The documents show users' real names, addresses, credit card numbers, other contact information, and IP addresses of their computers. User comments are also attached to the documents.
Some posts are not threats to others but contain comments on suicide or other mental distress. Advocates worry about why Google voluntarily passed user data on to law enforcement so willingly.
“Are they expecting law enforcement to do something, or is this just a way of covering themselves?” asked Saira Hussein, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Does Google see its responsibility as simply reporting this to law enforcement and moving on?”
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