Court Orders Google Gmail Account Deactivated – What Happened To Our 1st Ammendment Rights?

You may recall the case in which a Wyoming banking institution sent the records of some 1300 bank customers to the wrong Gmail address. [See original post here] The bank wanted Google to reveal the Gmail account user information but Google said not without a court order. So not only did the bank get a court order for the account information, but also to have the account deactivated.

Here are the facts on what happened:

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. No one responded, so the bank contacted Google to ask for information about the account holder.

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.”

I have to agree that an innocent person should not have to suffer because a bank employee messed up. I dont’ know about you but I would be pissed if my Gmail account had been deactivated through no fault of my own. I can understand that the bank may want to contact the account holder, but to cut off their email is a little hard to swallow.

What do you think?

Comments welcome.


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I have been writing for Lockergnome for eight years.

  • Zetacon

    I agree with your reasoning, but I think another side needs to be looked at here.

    “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.”

    1,300 customers to 1 Gmail address. Look at it from the bank’s point of view. Would you rather have 1,300 people suing you for disclosing private information, accidental or not or have one person sue you for having their Google account closed? On top of that, Google Mail is a free service and you can easily make another account. I’m also pretty sure that a reasonable exchange could be made where Google would transfer the contacts from the old account to the new account, as well as forward any necessary e-mails to allow less interruption for the user.

    “No one responded, so the bank contacted Google to ask for information about the account holder.”

    Operative phrase: No one responded. I can understand that the end user may have thought it was spam and probably deleted it. However, I’m sure phone numbers are not asked for by new Gmail users, so the bank wasn’t left with much of choice.

    All in all, you need to look at the numbers, though. 1,300 people suing you or 1?

  • leftystrat

    This is the inevitable procession of legal lunacy that started with the RIAA/MPAA suing everyone over digital rights.

  • Terry Thompson

    Do I like what the bank did ? Absolutely not. But,
    as I understand it, the owner of the email address did not answer requests from Google or the bank.
    Something had to be done to make sure those accounts were not being forwarded on, or used in a fraudulent manner. Who knows who a person is on a Google or Yahoo email address?
    With the amount of identity theft going on I understand the bank’s actions. But I think the bank must answer to those 1301 victims (this includes the email owner) for their actions.

  • Larry Burklow

    Wow! What makes the bank/judge think that shutting down the account would help?

    In my opinion, only a very small portion of the population would know how to exploit the information if it was received in their inbox; those that did know, would certainly have printed it out and/or forwarded to another address.

    Why couldn’t the judge just order Google to locate and delete the offending email off of the persons account? If they can shut it down, they can certainly see the contents.

    The bank made a mistake, and I’m sure they will pay legally for it, but the judge’s response really wasn’t logical and most likely didn’t stop anything from being disseminated; if indeed the person actually ever saw the email.

  • mhz

    It would be an inconvenience if you’re the Gmail user, but it sounds like it was necessary. You can’t wait around for a non-responsive user to get back to you. Once the situation is explained to him/her, if the Gmail user puts up a big fuss about it, it means he/she is stupid and selfish.

    Mistakes happen, and if you get caught in the middle of a big one, you have to cooperate, even if its an inconvenience to you.

    Maybe they were non-responsive because they were trying to *figure out* how to exploit the information. You just don’t know, so time is of the essence. It had to be shut down to force contact with the user, if there is still one.