February 21, 2024
You know the drill. “Everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
Even if you’ve never been arrested, you’ve probably heard the Miranda rights in movies or TV shows. But your words aren’t the only thing that can be used to incriminate you. Your searches, emails, accounts, and other activity onlin could be uncovered and used against you as well.
Under US law, certain government agencies, administrative agencies, and courts are allowed to request user data from Google when investigating computer crimes, regulatory violations, white collar fraud, and other criminal activities. If their request satisfies legal requirements, Google will pass your user data and information on to these agencies.
There are a number of different legal processes government and law enforcement agencies can use to legally obtain information about you from Google, as long as the appropriate forms are used. The different forms include:
Subpoena. A government or law enforcement agency can use a subpoena to force Google to share specific types of information, such as your name, account creation information, IP address, associated emails, and phone numbers. Subpoenas can be used to secure information about you in both civil and criminal cases. Oftentimes, government agencies can issue a subpoena without having a judge or magistrate approve it first.
Court Order. With a court order, a government or law enforcement agency can secure more detailed information about the use of your Google account, including information on the IP address, date, recipients, and senders of specific emails. To obtain a court order, a government agency must demonstrate that the information they are requesting is relevant to a criminal investigation.
Search Warrant. A search warrant can be used to get information about your Google searches and private Google account content, including emails, documents, photos, YouTube videos, and associated video information. If you use Google Voice, a search warrant will allow access to your text messages and voicemail. If you use Google Blogger, a warrant allows access to private posts and comments. A government agency can secure a court order if they show there is probable cause to believe that contraband or important information related to a crime will be discovered.
Wiretap order. A government agency can tap your Google communications in real-time if they have a wiretap order. To obtain a wiretap order, a government agency must prove that you are committing a certain crime, tapping your account will help officials learn important information about that crime, and that the crime somehow involves your account. Officials must also show that wiretap is the only way to reasonably or safely obtain information. In addition, there are laws that restrict the amount of time you can use a wiretap for, and require users to be notified.
Pen register or trap and trace order. With a pen register or trap and trace order, government agencies can secure information on your dialing, routing, signaling, and addressing. This type of order is one of the easiest to obtain. Government and law enforcement agencies can secure a pen register or trap and trace order by simply claiming they have cause to believe the information will be relevant to a criminal investigation.
Emergency requests. Government and law enforcement agencies may make emergency requests to access your data if they believe it is necessary to prevent death or serious harm to another person. Emergency requests must include both a description of the emergency and how the data might be able to be used to prevent it.
What to Do if You Believe You Are Under Investigation
If your Google account is being investigated, Google may notify you via email as long as a statute, court order, or additional legal restriction doesn’t prohibit them from doing so. If you receive a message from Google telling you that someone has asked for your account information, it means that a government agency has requested information stored in your Google account or associated with it.
After receiving such a message, it’s imperative to consult with an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as possible. You are unlikely to be able to persuade Google to not disclose the information, but you may be able to file an objection in court with the help of a seasoned and skilled attorney. However, time is of the essence, since you generally will only have seven days to file an objection.
A criminal lawyer can help you understand your options and get in touch with the requesting party with questions about the investigation. Your attorney can also help you file an objection to protect your privacy, and fight for your rights in court if an unjust investigation results in a criminal charge.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.