Courts & Corrections

Vermont judge: Google must obey warrants in child sex cases

A Vermont judge has told tech giant Google it must turn over evidence in cases of alleged sexual exploitation of children, the Vermont attorney general’s office said Wednesday.

The orders by Judge Samuel Hoar Jr. of Addison County Superior Court are part of a push by 32 states and the federal government that prosecutors hope will end with the U.S. Supreme Court saying tech companies can’t duck search warrants by saying the information sought is stored on servers outside the United States.

Google so far has refused to provide data from servers outside the United States, relying on a ruling from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose region of jurisdiction includes Vermont, saying in a similar case involving Microsoft that the company didn’t have to turn over data stored outside the United States.

In February, a federal magistrate in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is outside the 2nd Circuit, ruled the opposite way. Cases in which the federal court system’s regions are split often are seen as ripe for Supreme Court review.

The Vermont judge’s ruling relied on a state law, the Vermont Electronic Communications Privacy Act, saying it did not allow tech companies to avoid search warrants on the basis that the data was stored in foreign countries.

A news release Wednesday from the attorney general’s office announcing the Addison County ruling did not provide details on the three cases, other than saying they involved alleged sexual exploitation of children.

John Treadwell, head of the attorney general’s criminal division, said he didn’t have immediate access to details on the individual cases. He said one arose from Addison County, one from Washington County and one from Chittenden County.

“Unfortunately, many individuals use the electronic communications providers to commit crimes,” Attorney General TJ Donovan and Addison County State’s Attorney Dennis Wygmans said in a joint statement. “These include sexually exploiting children over the internet by luring children to engage in sex acts and creating and distributing child pornography.”

The statement added that, “Electronic communications providers’ refusal to comply with lawfully issued search warrants unreasonably compromises law enforcement’s ability to investigate these crimes and keep children safe.”

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