Google Docs used by alleged spammers obtained by FBI

The FBI last August issued Google a search warrant to obtain documents from the Google Docs accounts of alleged spammers. In a first for cloud computing, the FBI issued a search warrant due to a suspect's use of a cloud computing service.

Wired is reporting that Levi Beers and Chris de Diego were the suspects targeted in the August 21 search warrant. They are alleged to have run an email campaign tricking users into buying a diet supplement named Acai Pure under a company named Pulse Marketing. 

The search warrant allowed FBI agents to obtain the files directly from Google without having any contact with the suspects. Federal agents have no legal requirement to tell the alleged targets of the warrants unless they are charged. This is because they placed the documents online opposed to only keeping them on their own hard drives. In that case, the FBI would have to issue a search warrant directly to the alleged spammers and seize their computers. 

Google provided the documents 10 days after the FBI issued the warrant. Beer's account contained a spreadsheet named "Pulse_weekly_Report Q-3 2008" which revealed that in a single five hour block, Pulse Marketing had spammed 3,082,097 email addresses. "Yahoo_Hotmail_Gmail - IDs" was the name of another spreadsheet which contained the names of 8,000 Yahoo webmail accounts which were also sent emails under false details allegedly in violation of the CAN SPAM Act. 

The 1986 Stored Communications Act allows the government to access cloud data if there are "reasonable grounds" for the action.

Google spokesperson Brian Richardson said, "Currently, if it doesn't jeopardize the investigation ... and is allowed under the law, we work to notify the user before turning over any information requested". 

Beers said no such notice has been sent to him in the 8 months following the documents being handed over. "I have not received notification from Google or the government about this search warrant." 

So as cloud computing makes accessing documents anywhere easy, it also allows authorities ability to access the data too.

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35 Comments

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Why is this news? Tons of companies get subpoenaed daily for things like this. To the guy who said he doesn't use G Docs because of this.... What are you up too? lol

No matter what regulations are passed, the cloud is not a place to store files that you wouldn't want the cloud host or the government to see.

Good, the criminals have less place to hide and for that i am grateful.
I see no reason why a search warrant shouldn't cover all place and methods criminals could use to hide evidence.

To those who say "you've got nothing to worry about unless you are doing something wrong," that argument in general misses the point.

HOWEVER, in this case, there is no privacy violation. A search warrant is a legal document, issued by a JUDGE, upon a showing of PROBABLE CAUSE to believe that a crime has been committed. This is not a situation where the FBI said "give us the information" and Google said "cool." Instead, the FBI investigated, gathered evidence, went to a judge, presented what they had to the judge, and the judge agreed probable cause existed and issued a warrant.

At that point, they executed the warrant on Google. Google failing to comply with it would have been Contempt of Court at a minimum.

Some people seem to think there's an absolute right to privacy - even when it comes to illegal activities. That is not the case and never has been from the day the USA was founded. The right to privacy exists, and it can't be arbitrarily invaded. Arbitrarily is the key word. The right to privacy has always been able to be abridged when law enforcement makes a proper showing to a neutral judge/magistrate and gets a warrant / court order.

And to those who say "I don't use Google Docs because of this." Well, that's your choice. None of this is on Google though - the nature of cloud computing is that it is easier, from a technical standpoint, to get at the information. There is more of a "trail." You get a warrant and execute it on Google - no immediate user notification needed. Just like with financial information. There is a trail, so you get a warrant an execute it on the bank, credit card company, brokerage house, whatever - no immediate account holder information needed. So if you avoid Google Docs because of this, you probably ought to close your bank accounts and credit cards too, and store your money under your mattress and pay only in cash. Because it's basically the same thing.

MiniVegeta04 said,
...So if you avoid Google Docs because of this, you probably ought to close your bank accounts and credit cards too, and store your money under your mattress and pay only in cash. Because it's basically the same thing.
LOL It's funny you mention that because a friend of a friend does exactly that.

"The FBI last August issued Google a search warrant to obtain documents from the Google Docs accounts"

This is exactly why I do not use Google Docs.

MarenLBC said,
"The FBI last August issued Google a search warrant to obtain documents from the Google Docs accounts"

This is exactly why I do not use Google Docs.

That can do the same to your home. What does it being Google Docs have to do with it?

MarenLBC said,
"The FBI last August issued Google a search warrant to obtain documents from the Google Docs accounts"

This is exactly why I do not use Google Docs.

You do understand what a search warrant is, right? It is an order that pretty much says "whoever has this information is forced, by law, to turn it over to authorities". Google didn't just hand the data over, they were legally forced, by a judge, to provide it to the FBI.


If you weren't using Google Docs, and a search warrant was issued for your data, the FBI would have full legal right to go into your house (with or without your permission) and take your computer. If you refuse or interfere with them taking it, it's an instant jail sentence.


This has nothing to do with Google and privacy, they had absolutely no choice in the matter.

Edited by JoeyF, Apr 17 2010, 4:48pm :

Joey H said,

You do understand what a search warrant is, right? It is an order that pretty much says "whoever has this information is forced, by law, to turn it over to authorities". Google didn't just hand the data over, they were legally forced, by a judge, to provide it to the FBI.


If you weren't using Google Docs, and a search warrant was issued for your data, the FBI would have full legal right to go into your house (with or without your permission) and take your computer. If you refuse or interfere with them taking it, it's an instant jail sentence.

The Government is not always right first of all. Secondly, methods of data protection can be used on your home computer that would make recovery of said data all but impossible without a password. If they cannot access the files, they do not have a case, and therefore they have to get lost. You put too much trust in the next man and history has proved why that has not been a good idea time and time again.

MarenLBC said,

The Government is not always right first of all. Secondly, methods of data protection can be used on your home computer that would make recovery of said data all but impossible without a password. If they cannot access the files, they do not have a case, and therefore they have to get lost. You put too much trust in the next man and history has proved why that has not been a good idea time and time again.

Very wrong - the search warrant says you have to provide them with the data. If the data is password protected, the warrant forces you to provide them with the password. If you refuse, then yeah - they don't have a case about the original data, but at that point they now have a case against you for interfering with and hindering a federal investigation, which is a felony that would easily land you 10-20 years in jail.


I'm not saying rather or not the government is right or wrong, but they can't just go get a warrant willy-nilly. They need to have substantial evidence that a crime has been committed, and present that information to a judge in order to get a warrant.

Edited by JoeyF, Apr 17 2010, 4:05pm :

MarenLBC said,

The Government is not always right first of all. Secondly, methods of data protection can be used on your home computer that would make recovery of said data all but impossible without a password. If they cannot access the files, they do not have a case, and therefore they have to get lost. You put too much trust in the next man and history has proved why that has not been a good idea time and time again.


If you put a PW on your stuff then refuse to give it to them when they excute the warrent they just charge you with obstruction of justice and move on with the case. So either way they win.

Joey H said,

Very wrong - the search warrant says you have to provide them with the data. If the data is password protected, the warrant forces you to provide them with the password. If you refuse, then yeah - they don't have a case about the original data, but at that point they now have a case against you for interfering with and hindering a federal investigation, which is a felony that would easily land you 10-20 years in jail.


I'm not saying rather or not the government is right or wrong, but they can't just go get a warrant willy-nilly. They need to have substantial evidence that a crime has been committed, and present that information to a judge in order to get a warrant.

I have seen time and time again where cases have been dropped because the evidence couldn't be retrieved mainly in Child Pedophile cases. For instance, if the suspect has their HDD encrypted, the authorities cannot retrieve the data, and the suspect doesn't want to disclose their password they are legally within their rights because they do not have to incriminate themselves. Therefore the charges would be dropped if the computer was the only evidence the authorities had.

MarenLBC said,

I have seen time and time again where cases have been dropped because the evidence couldn't be retrieved mainly in Child Pedophile cases. For instance, if the suspect has their HDD encrypted, the authorities cannot retrieve the data, and the suspect doesn't want to disclose their password they are legally within their rights because they do not have to incriminate themselves. Therefore the charges would be dropped if the computer was the only evidence the authorities had.

Once again, if you don't provide the password, they can't get you on the original charge. But at that point you're committing a felony by interfering with a federal investigation, and they'll easily nab you on that charge instead.


The suspect is not legally within their rights either. They can not be forced to testify against themselves in court, but a search warrant is not executed during a trial, it happens before. Furthermore, obtaining a search warrant is "due process", which means they no longer have the right to privacy.

Edited by JoeyF, Apr 17 2010, 4:50pm :

MarenLBC said,
I have seen time and time again where cases have been dropped because the evidence couldn't be retrieved mainly in Child Pedophile cases. For instance, if the suspect has their HDD encrypted, the authorities cannot retrieve the data, and the suspect doesn't want to disclose their password they are legally within their rights because they do not have to incriminate themselves. Therefore the charges would be dropped if the computer was the only evidence the authorities had.

So... you're kicking Google for it being "easier" to obtain information relating to a crime through Google Docs?

Also, what is in your documents that makes you so glad to not be using Google Docs?

I can't imagine why anyone would bash a company for abiding by the law, especially when dealing with a con.

dead.cell said,

So... you're kicking Google for it being "easier" to obtain information relating to a crime through Google Docs?

Also, what is in your documents that makes you so glad to not be using Google Docs?

I can't imagine why anyone would bash a company for abiding by the law, especially when dealing with a con.

When did I bash Google? All I said is "This is why I do not use Google Docs".

MarenLBC said,
"The FBI last August issued Google a search warrant to obtain documents from the Google Docs accounts"

This is exactly why I do not use Google Docs.

Why would the FBI be concerned with what your using Google Docs for?

Obviously he has an encrypted drive, all passworded tightly to keep his criminal intent secret. Gonna get an awful shock when he finds out he's wrong

Mike Chipshop said,
Obviously he has an encrypted drive, all passworded tightly to keep his criminal intent secret. Gonna get an awful shock when he finds out he's wrong

I'm wrong? You're silly you don't know what I have.

Judges have ruled in the past that suspects do not have to disclose passwords for encrypted evidence in the US under Fifth Amendment protections.

You just tell them you where drunk when u passworded it and can't remember what it is... U can't be arrested cause u did not tell them something u don't know. And I have personal knowladge that this excuse works.. Reasonable doubt. They can't prove 100% that you are truthful or lieing..

Joey H said,

Once again, if you don't provide the password, they can't get you on the original charge. But at that point you're committing a felony by interfering with a federal investigation, and they'll easily nab you on that charge instead.


The suspect is not legally within their rights either. They can not be forced to testify against themselves in court, but a search warrant is not executed during a trial, it happens before. Furthermore, obtaining a search warrant is "due process", which means they no longer have the right to privacy.

MarenLBC said,
This is exactly why I do not use Google Docs.

Something to hide?

The 1986 Stored Communications Act allows the government to access cloud data if there are "reasonable grounds" for the action.

No one will be able to look at it unless they have a very good reason to.

farmeunit said,

That can do the same to your home. What does it being Google Docs have to do with it?


If they come in my house they have to notify me.... Big difference.

Fritzly said,

If they come in my house they have to notify me.... Big difference.

Yeah. Big difference? If you aren't home, they can just force themselves in. If you are holding your precious laptop, they wave a piece of paper at you. If you refuse, they wave another piece of paper at plus a handcuff.

You can complain about their level of evidence and whether they really had sufficient evidence, if not, you can also wave another piece of paper at them at a later date, but you can do nothing about them initially.

MarenLBC said,

I'm wrong? You're silly you don't know what I have.

That is your best argument and evidence after all this time? You are good at sprouting hypothetical cases that contradicts what the general populace (that is not dumb wits as you may like to think, like conspiracy theorists but that is for another time). A lot of child porn cases cannot be accessed not because the evidence is not there, because they deleted it and they cannot retrieve it every time. And I'm sure a password isn't going to be in the way of much cases in the end, it merely delays the inevitable by a period that varies.

And really, what kind of information do you really put on Google docs? It is more of a collaboration tool. I dont know a soul that don't have Office of some sorts and have a modern PC. So even I don't use Google Docs because of privacy fails in that regard, because you sort of assume everyone stores their bank details there. And yes, I got incriminating evidence, I'm going to store it online. Yeah, I think they are probably going to be smart enough to put it on a flash drive at least, but this is off the topic.

Eddo89 said,
Yeah. Big difference? If you aren't home, they can just force themselves in. If you are holding your precious laptop, they wave a piece of paper at you. If you refuse, they wave another piece of paper at plus a handcuff.

You can complain about their level of evidence and whether they really had sufficient evidence, if not, you can also wave another piece of paper at them at a later date, but you can do nothing about them initially.

Exactly. However, the point is with Google Docs you are never in control of your *own* data. You have absolutely *no say* in what Google gives the FBI. Google would just give away data without even informing you because they have to do it by law.

Nick Brunt said,

Something to hide?
Really? You got nothing to hide? Don't ever ask that stupid question unless you are willing to give your Social Security Number, Bank Account number, Name, Address and Date of birth to whoever you are asking that question. You don't even have a search warrant. So take your little box and go somewhere else.

Edited by Jebadiah, Apr 17 2010, 11:11pm :

Eddo89 said,

That is your best argument and evidence after all this time? You are good at sprouting hypothetical cases that contradicts what the general populace (that is not dumb wits as you may like to think, like conspiracy theorists but that is for another time). A lot of child porn cases cannot be accessed not because the evidence is not there, because they deleted it and they cannot retrieve it every time. And I'm sure a password isn't going to be in the way of much cases in the end, it merely delays the inevitable by a period that varies.

And really, what kind of information do you really put on Google docs? It is more of a collaboration tool. I dont know a soul that don't have Office of some sorts and have a modern PC. So even I don't use Google Docs because of privacy fails in that regard, because you sort of assume everyone stores their bank details there. And yes, I got incriminating evidence, I'm going to store it online. Yeah, I think they are probably going to be smart enough to put it on a flash drive at least, but this is off the topic.

Stop speaking on things you do not know.

Joey H said,

Very wrong - the search warrant says you have to provide them with the data. If the data is password protected, the warrant forces you to provide them with the password. If you refuse, then yeah - they don't have a case about the original data, but at that point they now have a case against you for interfering with and hindering a federal investigation, which is a felony that would easily land you 10-20 years in jail.


I'm not saying rather or not the government is right or wrong, but they can't just go get a warrant willy-nilly. They need to have substantial evidence that a crime has been committed, and present that information to a judge in order to get a warrant.

Taking the case of TrueCrypt, if you have a hidden, encrypted container within an encrypted container, they have no way of telling if there is another one because of plausible deniability.