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Google agrees to compliance reforms to prevent search warrant data loss


(Reuters) — The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it had reached an agreement with Alphabet Inc.’s Google LLC resolving a dispute with the search engine giant over the loss of data responsive to a 2016 search warrant.

The government said it was a “first-of-its-kind resolution” that would result in Google reforming “its legal process compliance program to ensure timely and complete responses to legal process such as subpoenas and search warrants.”

“The department is committed to ensuring that electronic communications providers comply with court orders to protect and facilitate criminal investigations,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite, who heads the Justice Department's Criminal Division.

The settlement demonstrated the department’s “resolve in ensuring that technology companies, such as Google, provide prompt and complete responses to legal process to ensure public safety and bring offenders to justice,” he added.

Google said it had a “long track record of protecting our users’ privacy, including pushing back against overbroad government demands for user data, and this agreement in no way changes our ability or our commitment to continue doing so.”

The company told a U.S. court it had spent over $90 million “on additional resources, systems, and staffing to implement legal process compliance program improvements.”

The Justice Department said an independent compliance professional will be hired to serve as an outside third party related to Google’s compliance upgrades.

In 2016, the United States obtained a search warrant in California for data held at Google related to the investigation of the criminal cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e, the department said.

Later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled search warrants issued under the Stored Communications Act did not cover data stored outside of the United States.

In 2018, Congress clarified the SCA did cover U.S. providers that chose to store data overseas but the government said “in the intervening time, data responsive to the warrant was lost,” the Justice Department said.

Google will assemble reports and updates regarding the compliance program that will go to the government, the Google Compliance Steering Committee and Alphabet board committees.