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.
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 person?”
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 world.”
Read the full story on MediaPost. One of the provisions in the order was that:
Google shall immediately disclose to Plaintiff and the Court the status of the Gmail Account, specifically, whether the Gmail Account is dormant or active, whether the Inadvertent Email was opened or otherwise manipulated, and in the event that the Gmail Account is not dormant, the identity and contact information for the Gmail account holder.
But that’s not the end of the story. Google and Rocky Mountain Bank subsequently filed a joint motion stating that the case is now moot and asking the federal district court to vacate the temporary restraining order so that Google could reactivate the email account in question.
The joint motion does not unring the privacy bell on this case, however. Should the court have complied with the bank’s request to invade a Gmail user’s privacy because the bank screwed up?