Google fight State to protect digital privacy

Information Technology company Google is locked in a legal battle with the Government over whether to provide electronic mail (email) contents belonging to an alleged hacker.

In a case that will set a precedent on whether the Government push for unfettered access to people’s digital lives is legal or not, the multinational Google Kenya said it had no relations with the California-based entity.

 “Google Kenya has no technical capacity to comply with the order, as Google Kenya has no access to Google LLC servers, services or products,” High Court judge George Odunga was told.

The case stems from the hacking of Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) systems by an unidentified person who used a Gmail account.

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Browsing history

Kenya’s sleuths moved to the magistrate’s court, seeking orders to force Google to disclose the contents of an email belonging to [email protected], as they suspected the account belonged to the hacker.

According to Mohamed Jillo, an investigator who sought the search orders on behalf of KRA, Google ought to allow him to take away all the contents relating to the email for investigations.

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Mr Jillo, in the application, said the email holder was able to access the computer system and performed tasks that were limited to KRA officials.

The case will draw a legal debate on what privacy means and to what extent the Government should be allowed to snoop into someone’s private emails during investigations without their knowledge.

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What the detectives were seeking dates far back into the hacker’s past, and that detailed information can be revealed about all aspects of his life through his browsing history, thus opening him up to more scrutiny than anticipated.

Justice Odunga heard that a lower court gave the orders without hearing Google Kenya.

“The honourable chief magistrate order is manifestly irrational, unfair, and illegal in so far as it purports to compel the applicant to provide records both electronic and hard copies for an email address which the applicant does not administer,” the firm argues.

The Government has been battling with individuals for confiscating their mobile phones and laptops for investigations, but the courts have often frowned on cries that this amounts to infringing on peoples’ private lives.

Last month, the High Court declined to force the police to return a mobile phone they had confiscated from a businessman accused of insulting a senator.

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 Private life

James Mwangi had sued the State, saying holding his mobile phone opened up his whole private life to the police.

Although the man had been set free, the law enforcers still held on to his gadget. But the judge said the police had powers to keep anything from a suspect during investigations.

In the Google Kenya case, Justice Odunga gave temporary orders stopping the implementation of the lower court’s directive until the case was heard and determined.

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