UPDATED 12:36 EDT / AUGUST 31 2009

Google Has Failed the Initial Integrity Litmus Test. Will They Establish a Pattern of Cowardice?

[Editor’s Note: Updated with response from Google to @marshallkmrh]

image As I discussed last week in my post about the Pirate Bay, Google’s Blogger and the AT&T Google Voice case, it seems that the collective intestinal fortitude of the tech world is slowly eroding.

Marshall Kirkpatrick points an upcoming touchstone for Google – a case involving “a high-profile Caribbean investigative website called The TCI Journal.”  According to Marshall, Google has notified TCI that they intend to send the IP address used to access the site’s GMail account within the next two weeks.

This is troubling to me for a number of reasons.  First, and most important, it isn’t as if the TCI Journal is a spoiled NYC rich girl running around calling people “skanks,” and hoping to get away with anonymity.  This is a site having been described as devoted to “muckraking journalism,” calling out rampant corruption on the Turks & Caicos Islands, a former British colony.

Those that still remain in the camp of Google apologists on this one might argue that they’re simply following legal procedure.  Several years ago, though, I had a few highly placed sources from within Google (that helped me break the story of Android / the “gPhone” before anyone else) – and I remember him describing the organizational structure behind the GMail servers, a structure that was particularly interesting since it seemed to be design to dodge global legal jurisdictions.

image According to one of those contacts, the servers were set up globally with the intention to route logging databases through countries that didn’t have extradition treaties with one another.  If, for instance, there was a user in Jordan, they would route his login records in a server in the United States so that it would force all requests for information not through the local state courts, but through a foreign nation where no avenues for legal requests existed.

You can see evidence of this almost neurotic attention to protecting the user’s identity when it comes to cases as recent as a few years ago where Google refused to turn over the identity of traffickers of child pornographers (which I covered extensively at Mashable). They’ve also expressed a great deal of willingness to stand up for the rights of free speech of Al Qaeda recruiters on YouTube.

When it comes to bloggers in defamation suits, though, Google seems to be willing to let those without resources to fight their own battles to fall to the wolves.

As I have dozens of times in the past, I passionately implore Google to come up with a coherent privacy policy that they’ll adhere to. If we’re all going to live in a Google world, we at least deserve to know where we’ll stand when someone has their back to the wall.

Update: The following update appeared in the referenced RWW post…

A Google spokesperson sent us the following response to our inquiry.

"When Google receives legal process, such as court orders and subpoenas, where possible we promptly provide notice to users to allow them to object to those requests for information. Users may raise any and all objections they feel are relevant, including First Amendment arguments. In addition, we are still evaluating all our legal options regarding this particular request."

In some ways, this case is reminiscent of Yahoo’s providing user account information in 2005 to the Chinese government for journalist Shi Tao’s Yahoo Mail account. Tao allegedly summarized a government order directing media organizations in China to downplay the upcoming 15th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities."


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