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Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Google, Inc. Ordered to Comply With Search Warrants Issued in Investigations Involving The Sexual Exploitation Of Children

September 6, 2017

CONTACT: TJ Donovan, Attorney General, (802) 595-8679

The Vermont Superior Court, Addison Criminal Division, ordered Google, Inc. to comply with Vermont search warrants. The search warrants sought computer records and files related to the alleged sexual exploitation of children. Google refused to produce such files because they were stored on overseas servers. The search warrants were issued in three separate criminal investigations, two of which the Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting and one of which the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office is prosecuting.

Google justified its refusal to comply with the warrants by relying on a separate decision in the case of the United States v. Microsoft. In that case, a federal judge issued a search warrant under the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA), authorizing the search of a specific Microsoft Outlook email account. Microsoft asserted it would be an impermissible extraterritorial application of the SCA to require it to retrieve data from a foreign server, even though Microsoft could access that data from its offices in the United States. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with Microsoft and quashed the warrant. The federal government has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review and reverse the Second Circuit’s decision. The Vermont Attorney General’s Office is leading a bipartisan coalition of 32 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico that support the federal government’s request.

The Addison Criminal Division disagreed with Google’s reliance on the Second Circuit’s decision in United States v. Microsoft. It then held that Vermont’s Electronic Communications Privacy Act requires Google to produce data in response to search warrants issued by Vermont courts even if that data is stored overseas. The court recognized that the State receives and reviews the data Google produces in response to the warrant here in Vermont. Therefore, the search and seizure occurs in Vermont, not overseas. A full copy of the Court’s order can be found here. Google has appealed the order to the Vermont Supreme Court.

With respect to the ongoing litigation, Attorney General Donovan and State’s Attorney Wygmans state, “Unfortunately, many individuals use the electronic communications providers to commit crimes. These include sexually exploiting children over the internet by luring children to engage in sex acts and creating and distributing child pornography. Electronic communications providers’ refusal to comply with lawfully issued search warrants unreasonably compromises law enforcement’s ability to investigate these crimes and keep children safe.”

Last modified: March 12, 2018