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Google Admits to Data Loss, Reaches Search Warrant Agreement with DOJ

Google's logo on its headquarters.

Mountain View, California, USA - March 29, 2018: Google sign on the building at Google's headquarters in Silicon Valley . Google is an American technology company in Internet-related services and products.

A stipulation filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday resolved a dispute between the federal law enforcement agency and Google over digital record warrant compliance. In the filing, Google admitted to losing data responsive to the 2016 search warrant at issue and committed itself to program enhancements, reporting obligations, and a “first-of-its-kind” independent compliance professional to oversee the changes. The company also told the court it has spent $90 million to effectuate these goals.

The disagreement dates to 2016 when the DOJ sought information from Google for its criminal investigation of the cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e pursuant to a Stored Communications Act (SCA) warrant, requiring providers such as Google to disclose customer communications. Specifically, the DOJ sought stored content related to certain email accounts.

Thereafter, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision holding that SCA search warrants do not reach data stored outside of the United States. In turn, Google stopped executing the warrant and, instead, only produced information it could confirm was stored domestically including. In addition, Google attempted to create new tools that would prevent the data from being repatriated.

Litigation between Google and the government ensued in 2017, until in 2018, Congress clarified that the SCA does indeed reach data that U.S. providers choose to store overseas. In the interim, however, data responsive to the warrant was lost.

In this week’s resolution, Google made numerous agreements to improve its legal process compliance program including its SCA obligations. The company said it has expended $90 million in additional resources, systems, and staffing to implement these improvements. “In light of these significant expenditures, the parties agree that no further remedial compensation is warranted,” the stipulation stated.

As for third-party oversight, a professional is slated to verify Google’s efforts to satisfy its now-enhanced compliance program. The company will also assemble periodic reports provided to both the overseer, high-level committees, and Alphabet’s board of directors.

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