FREE SPEECH — A bank mistakenly e-mails you confidential business information, then gets a court to order the shutdown of your e-mail account, with no evidence you planned to do any wrong. This eyebrow-raiser puts the spotlight on a federal judge in San Jose, reports Wendy Davis for Online Media Daily.
In a highly unusual move, a federal judge has
ordered Google to deactivate the email account of a user who was
mistakenly sent confidential financial information by a bank.
The order, issued Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge James Ware
in the northern district of California, also requires Google to
disclose the Gmail account holder's identity and contact information.
The Gmail user hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing.
The ruling stems from a monumental error by the Wilson,
Wyo.-based Rocky Mountain Bank. On Aug. 12, the bank mistakenly sent
names, addresses, social security numbers and loan information of more
than 1,300 customers to a Gmail address. When the bank realized the
problem, it sent a message to that same address asking the recipient to
contact the bank and destroy the file without opening it.
responded, so the bank contacted Google to ask for information about
the account holder.
to get a court order to obtain such data. The bank then filed papers
asking a court to order Google to disclose the information and
deactivate the account.
The bank attempted to file its papers under seal, but U.S.
District Court Judge Ronald Whyte denied that request. Earlier this
week, the case was transferred to Ware from Whyte.
Some lawyers say the Ware's order is problematic because it affects the
Gmail account holder's First Amendment rights to communicate online, as
well as his or her privacy rights.
"It's outrageous that the bank asked for this, and it's
outrageous that the court granted it," says John Morris, general
counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology. "What right does
the bank have and go suspend the email account of a completely innocent
He adds: "At the end of the day, the bank obviously screwed up.
But it should not be bringing a lawsuit against two completely innocent
parties and disrupting one of the innocent party's email contact to the
Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa
Clara University, adds that the judge's order could have significant
ramifications for the Gmail account holder. "Losing an email account is
a big deal," he said. "It's very disconcerting to think that a judge
could simply order my account deactivated."
Aside from the constitutional implications of the judge's order, the bank's behavior has won it the non-coveted eSarcasm Salute.