This is another illustrative example of the insidious reciprocal relationships forged between our government and the huge corporations they represent. Frankly, after the Snowden revelations, I figured it'd only be a matter of time until we also discovered that corporations other than the telecoms and tech companies would soon get into the data collection process. I didn't know, however, that it would take such a short time.
In response to an Ecuadorian court's finding that Chevron had wittingly dumped toxic waste into Amazon River waterways used by indigenous groups for drinking water -- causing massive harm to the greater Amazonian rainforest -- the giant oil corporation filed a countersuit in the U.S. alleging plaintiffs in the Ecuadorian case conspired to defraud the company. One of three subsequent rulings by a federal judge in New York just granted Chevron broad access to any documents Microsoft has possession of related to the identity of 30 anonymous individuals they allege are of interest in the litigation. The subpoena covers every individuals' IP address over the period of the past nine years.
The case involves an $18.2 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuador court, for massive environmental contamination from oil drilling.Remember, some of these records belong to people indirectly involved in the case. How they were determined to be involved remains unclear.
As part of this lawsuit, Chevron has subpoenaed Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to request all information related to the email addresses of more than 100 advocates, journalists, lawyers, and others. These individuals are not parties to the suit, but Chevron alleges that they are involved directly or indirectly in the litigation, and may have been outspoken critics of Chevron’s conduct. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan explains the scope of what Chevron was seeking from Microsoft:
Just to be crystal clear, through the requested information Microsoft would be compelled to turn over -- not to a U.S. government agency -- but rather to one of the largest corporations in the world, would include the IP address associated with every login for every account named in the suit over the past nine years. The massive collection would enable the oil giant to identify the countries, states and even cities where the users logged into their accounts. In fact, in some instances, Chevron could even determine actual building addresses.
Chevron would not learn who logged into the accounts. That is to say that Chevron would know who created (or purported to create) the email accounts but would not know if there was a single user or multiple users for each account. Nevertheless, the subpoenaed information might allow Chevron to infer the movements of the users over the relevant period (at a high level of generality) and might permit Chevron to make inferences about some of the users’ professional and personal relationships.The first of these subpoenas was granted in full late last month. The court decided the anonymous individuals were not entitled to First Amendment rights because they might not be American citizens.
As human rights lawyer Marissa Vahlsing explains:
The account-holders in this case were proceeding anonymously, which the First Amendment permits. Because of this, Judge Kaplan was provided with no information about the account holders’ residency or places of birth. It is somewhat amazing then, that Judge Kaplan assumed that the account holders were not U.S. citizens. As far as I know, a judge has never before made this assumption when presented with a First Amendment claim. We have to ask then: on what basis did Judge Kaplan reach out and make this assumption?A full explanation is forthcoming I'm sure.
Even people not particularly concerned with the NSA's massive surveillance programs should be alarmed at the very notion that a federal judge would so callously risk the constitutional rights of Americans on the presumption that some of the environmentalists may be citizens of another country.
It is worth noting that this case involves only the First Amendment, and not the Fourth, because parties in civil suits have a whole lot of leeway to access data via administrative subpoenas, which are typically not considered “searches” (and/or seizures) under the Fourth Amendment. Nonetheless, their speech, associations, and political activities, remain protected under the First.Given the broad range of dire consequences slowly becoming clearer to everyone paying any attention at all; isn't it time for liberals and civil liberty advocates everywhere to join together to fight against this mass surveillance apparatus before it consumes us all?
If not now... when?