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March 17, 2006

Google to Reveal the Contents of a Gmail Account

In a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission, a subpoena is sent to Google for the complete contents of a Gmail account, including deleted e-mail messages.

In November 2003, the Federal Trade Commission sued AmeriDebt and founder Andris Pukke on charges that the company deceived customers about credit counseling and failed to use customers' money to actually pay their creditors.

Pukke's missing money has been linked to a Belize developer called Dolphin Development, which counts a fellow named Peter Baker as a shareholder. The court-appointed receiver in the FTC case, Robb Evans & Associates, sent a subpoena to Google on Nov. 1 asking for the complete contents of Baker's Gmail account.

The subpoena asks for not only current e-mail but also deleted e-mail: "All documents concerning all Gmail accounts of Baker...for the period from Jan. 1, 2003, to present, including but not limited to all e-mails and messages stored in all mailboxes, folders, in-boxes, sent items and deleted items, and all links to related Web pages contained in such e-mail messages."

Google's privacy policy says deleted e-mail messages "may remain in our offline backup systems" in perpetuity. It does not guarantee that backups are ever deleted. Baker estimated he may have tens of thousands of e-mail messages in his Gmail account.

In a Jan. 31 ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte rejected Baker's objection to the subpeona. She said his attorney could withhold "truly protected" information but must "err on the side" of disclosure. Baker asked the judge to reconsider, but on Monday, Laporte reiterated her decision.

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