Last week, while I was participating in a conference, I received an email from Google with a puzzling subject line: “Subpoena Notice from Google (Internal Ref. No. 257121).” I opened the email, assuming that it was some kind of sophisticated phishing attempt. It wasn’t. It was Google informing me — more than a little cryptically — that Chevron had subpoenaed my account information and that it intended to comply unless I filed a motion to quash. Here is Google’s email, with only some identifying information redacted:
Google has received a subpoena for information related to your Google account in a case entitled Chevron Corp. v. Steven Donziger, et al., United States District Court for the Northern District of California, 11 Civ. 0691 (LAK) (Internal Ref. No. 257121).
To comply with the law, unless you provide us with a copy of a motion to quash the subpoena (or other formal objection filed in court) via email at [Google email address] by 5pm Pacific Time on October 7, 2012, Google may provide responsive documents on this date.
For more information about the subpoena, you may wish to contact the party seeking this information at:
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
200 Park Ave
New York, New York 10166-0193
[Attorney phone number]
Google is not in a position to provide you with legal advice.
If you have other questions regarding the subpoena, we encourage you to contact your attorney.
Google Legal Support
My first reaction was shock. As regular readers know, I have often criticized Chevron’s actions in Ecuador. But I could not imagine why Chevron was subpoenaing my private information; the sum total of my interaction with Steven Donziger, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ lead attorney and the defendant in Chevron’s lawsuit, consisted of two emails, neither of which contained anything substantive. What did Chevron think I had that would help them? Or were they simply trying to intimidate me?
My second reaction was anger. I am — obviously — a blogger. I am also, as a blogger, a journalist. I have sources who provide me with confidential information on a wide variety of issues; those sources could lose their jobs if their identities were ever revealed. It infuriated me that Chevron would try to obtain my account information — and I was equally frustrated that Google apparently had no intention whatsoever of protecting my privacy.
There was never any doubt in my mind that I would resist the subpoena. But this wasn’t my area of law, so I immediately wrote for advice to my friend and Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald, who has passionately defended the rights of bloggers and journalists. Glenn put me in touch with Ben Wizner, the Director of the ACLU’s fantastic Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. To my relief, the ACLU quickly agreed to help me…