A California court has issued a subpoena demanding Google reveal the IP addresses of journalists writing for a corruption busting journal from the Caribbean.
The August 28 subpoena, issued by the Superior Court, County of Santa Clara, as part of a “libel tourism” action taken by non-US property developers, demands detailed information about the operators of “firstname.lastname@example.org”. The account is the main email address of the TCI Journal, the most influential journal covering the Turks & Caicos Islands. The Islands are a tourist mecca and tax haven in the Caribbean sea, and until August 14 were an independent British protectorate.
Exposures in the Journal culminated in a dramatic UK governance takeover of the Islands on August 14.
A trail of evidence dug up by the TCI Journal, a UK commission of inquiry, and others, showed that foreign property developers were giving millions in secret loans and payments to senior Islander politicians, including an alleged $500,000 cash payment to the Island’s now former Premier, Michael Misick.
The Commission of Inquiry Final Report was released on the 18th of July this year in significatly redacted form. A full version was released by WikiLeaks. A High Court case ensued which initially enjoined all media in the Islands from reporting the redacted findings, however within a few days this restriction was overturned.
The Gmail subpeona applicant, property developer Dr. Cem Kinay, along with his two companies, Turks Ltd, and Star Platinum Island, were mentioned several times during public oral hearings of the Commission of Inquiry and featured significantly in the redacted portions of the Commission’s Final Report.
In particular there are allegations of bribery of public officials (e.g of the Premier with an irregular payment of $500,000), in the acquisition of public land valued by the government appraiser at approximately $60 – $100 million dollars U.S., for a price of $3.2 million dollars.
On August 14, the UK announced that it had taken direct rule over the Islands and suspended its parliament.
According to the notifying letter from Google to the Journal, Google intends to hand over the requested records in just over two weeks, without any defense, and states that the Journal may file a counter-motion with the Santa-Clara court itself.
Subpoenas for records are rubber-stamped by US courts, meaning that anyone in a position to start law suits in California can obtain private information about Gmail users who are not in a position to respond in kind, including cash-strapped corruption busting journalists from the Caribbean.
Google has elected to keep extensive, non-anoymized records on its users, but not defend these records from disclosure. This combination, together with inequitable access to justice in Californian courts, is toxic.