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Ex-Central Authority director on e-mail probe: Cops using faulty approach to Google

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An application to get any useful information from US-based internet search giant Google can only be successful if the request is made through a subpoena from a US court, according to David West, the former director of the Central Authority. 



West, who headed the Central Authority for eight years, in an interview on CNC3 last night said it would be meaningless if the police wrote to the Google without the assistance of the US Department of Justice, which would liaise with the relevant federal prosecutors to seek the information on behalf of T&T. 



Such a request can only be channeled through the Central Authority, a department in the Ministry of the Attorney General, which handles all legal matters under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to gather criminal evidence in foreign states. West’s statements have contradicted claims by investigators, including former deputy commissioner of police Mervyn Richardson, that Google had been contacted last year in the emailgate probe which levelled damning allegations against top government officials.



Asked about the conflicting reports concerning Google yesterday, Police Service public information officer Insp Wayne Mystar said: 
“My information is that Google was engaged. However, Google operates within certain legal parameters and we are working assiduously with the team from the DPP’s department to satisfy those requirements and we expect full co-operation in the near future.” But according to West: “Google is not obligated to respond to a letter from Mr Richardson as the head or lead investigator. Google will only respond to a subpoena from a US court.”


He maintained that any official request to Google to preserve e-mails from its clients must pass through the Central Authority or else it would be meaningless. West said the police investigators “cannot rely on that (correspondence sent by Richardson) because there is nothing compelling Google to hold that info so I can't see that happening.” He said he remained baffled over why the police have not maximised the use of the Central Authority to investigate the matter.


“The police should have gone through the Central Authority from day one and asked for this information and they could from day one have asked for this information to be kept while we gather evidence to build its case. “In other words, the police could have already had their hands on the e-mails, if they exist,” he added. Such applications, he said, were usually processed within two to three months before the court order or subpoena was issued.


Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenn Hackett, who is now in charge of the e-mail probe, said earlier this week that police have officially engaged Google but “there are certain legal parameters within which they have to operate.” An exclusive T&T Guardian story on Tuesday reported that US Internet search giant Google’s latest transparency report, published on its Web site, showed it had received no requests for information from T&T.



Google’s legal process

Google lays bare on its public policy blog exactly how governments can go about receiving data from the internet search giant. “We require that government agencies conducting criminal investigations use a search warrant to compel us to provide a user’s search query information and private content stored in a Google account, such as e-mail messages, documents, photos and YouTube videos.”




Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley had made the claim last May that he had in his possession e-mails purportedly from the address of the top government officials — Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, National Security Minister Gary Griffith and Works and Infrastructure Minister Suruj Rambachan — detailing allegations of a plot to tap the phone of the Director of Public Prosecutions and harm a T&T Guardian journalist who broke the story about the early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011, which favoured government financiers on criminal charges.


Persad-Bissessar and her colleagues denied any knowledge of the e-mails and claimed they were fabrications but the PM called for an immediate police probe of the matter. Richardson was appointed to investigate the allegations and interviewed several people named in the e-mails and sought computers and electronic devices used by the politicians. However, Richardson retired in November with not much headway being made in the case. He is now head of the Rapid Response Unit under the Ministry of National Security.


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