Google ordered to deactivate innocent account

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Screen shot of a failed log in attempt to Gmail with the text 'Sorry, your account has been disabled'

I don’t usually post about current news, but this has riled me up.

An employee at Rocky Mountain Bank messed up big time when they sent an email containing details of over 1000 customers to the wrong email address. They tried emailing the person again to get them to delete the offending email but when they got no response they contacted Google requesting they disclose the email owner’s identity.

Being the sensible company that Google are, they rejected the request and told the bank they must get a court order before such information could be disclosed to them.

That’s when things start to get crazy.

The bank followed Google’s “suggestion” to get a court order. Not only did they request the court order Google to disclose the Gmail user’s identity, they also requested that Google deactivate the account in question.

Surprisingly, or rather disturbingly, the judge ruled in favour of the bank. Google were forced to deactivate an innocent person’s account and pass on their name and contact details to the bank all because one employee screwed up.

I believe the ruling to be completely over the top and unnecessary. A fair middle ground would have been Google ensuring the email in question was removed from the email account. This would have solved the problem while not invading someone’s privacy and, as some lawyers are saying, affect the user’s right to communicate online.

Serious implications

I feel that this ruling could have a serious negative impact on the rights of people using the Internet. Judges seem to be like sheep and use rulings made previously as a guideline for their own cases. How many judges will now decide to shut down email accounts rather than put in some effort and come up with a fairer solution? Not only that, but this could easily extend to other accounts where information may be shared by accident, such as Facebook.

It is horrifying to think anyone could have their email account disabled even if they have done nothing wrong. Email accounts are the centre of online activity. It is the thing we link all of our other accounts to. If our email account is deactivated we could not only lose all our previous mails but also access to other accounts online if you happen to forget your password.

This is a sad day for Internet users everywhere. Apparently our accounts and the data they hold are insignificant and disposable.

Update September 29th, 2009 at 17:58 BST

According to CNET, Google and Rocky Mountain bank have agreed to dismiss the case and Google have been able to re-activate the gmail account. This is great news for the Google user, however I feel the damage done by this case can’t be undone so easily.

Google account disabled screenshot courtesy of gabrielsaldana

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    • This could happen to anyone. Some corporate entity may send out one mistaken email and the innocent recipient would get his account locked out. Too bad.

    • I don’t think that damage was done by employee or this incident. It was the (should I use “foolish”) judge who caused all these.

      Although i am getting off-topic, judges really need some tech education! In my country, a judge ordered jail to a person because there were some offensive comments(to a specific community) on an Orkut community created by him!

      • I certainly agree, judges don’t seem to know enough about the Internet and various issues relating to it. I can understand that older judges wouldn’t, so perhaps tech cases should be passed to younger judges. The fact this judge allowed someone who had done nothing wrong to have their account closed shows they probably didn’t understand the value of an email account.

        Thanks for posting your thoughts 🙂

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