Stored Communications Act Limits Production of Google Emails – eDiscovery Case Law
February 12, 2013
In Optiver Australia Pty. Ltd. & Anor. v. Tibra Trading Pty. Ltd. & Ors. (N.D.Cal., January 23, 2013), California Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal granted much of the defendant’s motion to quash subpoena of Google for electronic communications sent or received by certain Gmail accounts allegedly used by employees of the defendant because most of the request violated the terms of the Stored Communications Act.
The plaintiff alleged that several of its former employees copied the plaintiff's proprietary source code, left the plaintiff company, and used the code to found the defendant in 2006. After receiving a production from the defendant, the plaintiff “suspected that key emails relating to the allegedly stolen code were previously deleted”; as a result, the Federal Court of Australia ordered further discovery. The defendant filed an ex parte application for judicial assistance pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782 to serve a subpoena upon Google for documents to be used in the foreign proceeding, which was granted.
The plaintiff submitted two requests to Google, as follows:
- “Request One: Documents sufficient to identify the recipient(s), sender, subject, date sent, date received, date read, and date deleted of emails, email attachments, or Google Talk messages that contain either of the terms ‘PGP’ or ‘Optiver’ (case insensitive) sent or received between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2007” for selected email addresses; and
- “Request Two: Documents sufficient to show the recipient(s), sender, subject, date sent, date received, date read, and date deleted of emails, email attachments, or Google Talk messages sent or received between November 3, 2005 to December 31, 2009 that were sent to or from” selected email addresses.
The defendant moved to quash the subpoena.
Judge Grewal noted that “it is well-established that civil subpoenas, including those issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782, are subject to the prohibitions of the Stored Communications Act (‘SCA)”, which was passed in 1986. The SCA prohibits service providers from knowingly disclosing the contents of a user's electronic communications.
Judge Grewal ruled that the plaintiff’s “Request One is invalid because it seeks disclosure of the terms ‘Optiver’ and ‘PGP’” and granted the defendant’s motion to quash that request. As for Request Two, Judge Grewal ruled that it “violates the SCA insofar as it seeks the subject of the communications, but the remainder is permissible.” Therefore, he ruled that Google was required to provide only the following: “Documents sufficient to show the recipient(s), sender, date sent, date received, date read, and date deleted of emails, email attachments, or Google Talk messages sent or received between November 3, 2005 to December 31, 2009 that were sent to or from the email addresses listed”.
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