Photo via ArtBrom/Flickr
A federal judge in New York City granted a subpoena last month that effectively allows Chevron access to nine years of email metadata (i.e. names, time stamps, login info, detailed location data but not content) of any and all parties involved in litigation against the oil company, Mother Jones reports. That means activists, lawyers, witnesses and journalists who are even remotely part of the case against the oil giant. Chevron has asked Google, Yahoo and Microsoft (which owns Hotmail) for names tied to accounts and user location every time he/she logged in.
The oil company is being accused of drilling in Ecuador and leaving behind a trail of toxic sludge and leaky pipelines. The lawsuit was filed in 1993 and has been going on since then. Chevron is still crying wolf, saying that this is part of a major conspiracy against the company. Now, what could a massive oil corporation do that would piss someone off? They have lost this trial before and have refused to pay $9 billion in damages to those they owe it to–they are now expected to pay $19 billion.
The fact is however, that this is a corporation that has just gained access to nine years (and that’s a lot of years) of email metadata; that is personal, private email metadata of individuals involved in a lawsuit. Access was granted on the basis that it did not go against the First Amendment–which protects the right to speak anonymously–seeing as Americans were not the people targeted. This American exceptionalism–both in the case of PRISM and in this lawsuit–reveals an uncomfortable truth: the privacy and rights of every other individual on the planet are up for grabs in America’s newest role as the world’s largest Peeping Tom.
In fact, Kaplan was wrong. At least two Americans have already been impacted by this access, in direct violation of the First Amendment. More even, the subpoena in question has up to 101 email addresses with only two accounts of the defendants directly involved in the lawsuit, based on information from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Even if Americans weren't involved, though, the idea of an oil company getting to poke around in the background of people who are suing them doesn't sit well.
It's the latest stage in on-going saga against both Kaplan--who has already been accused of being "Chevron's lackey"–and against privacy for whistleblowers and journalists in the face of a big, well-moneyed corporation. There's still hope that the Internet will become the great leveler that it was once promised to be, but legislation–and increasingly it looks like it will have to be international legislation–is going to have to catch up first.