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Google shuts down bank snafu Gmail account

Court order snuffs innocent bystander

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Google has resolved a lawsuit from a US bank that accidentally sent 1,300 confidential tax IDs to an innocent Gmail account, but not before the web giant complied with a court order to shutdown the account and disclose certain account info.

It's unclear what information was disclosed.

In mid-August, according to court documents, an employee with the Wyoming-based Rocky Mountain Bank was asked by a customer to send a group of loan documents to a Gmail account used by a third party. The bank employee then proceeded to send the documents to the wrong Gmail address - alongside another file that included the names, addresses, tax IDs, and loan info for 1,325 of the bank's customers.

When Google refused to release the identity of the person behind the Gmail account, the bank sued. Last week, Google told The Reg it would not release the user's identity unless it receives a subpoena or court order, and such an order soon arrived.

Judge James Ware of the US district court for the northern district of California issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, insisting that Google deactivate the account. The judge also ordered Google to disclose - to the court and the bank - whether the account was dormant or active and whether the confidential file was opened or otherwise manipulated.

If the account was not dormant, Google was ordered to divulge the user's identity and contact information.

In a joint court filing, both parties said that Google had complied with the order. And Google has confirmed this with The Reg. But it's unclear what information was divulged to the court and the bank.

Both parties also said they had resolved the issue and that the court should lift the order deactivating the account. But the court has adjourned the case until October 5, so the account will remain shut at least until then.

"After notifying the account owner, we complied with the court's order," a Google spokesman tells us. "However, after working with Rocky Mountain Bank and the court, we've resolved the issue around the bank's error, and both sides have agreed to vacate the TRO [temporary restraining order] and dismiss the case."

He added: "It's also incorrect to say that we are able to disclose somebody's identity - we only have the information associated with the account, and federal law sets limits on what is discoverable."

In any event, the account of an innocent Gmail user has been shutdown - a clear violation of the user's constitutional right to communicate. And whatever Google divulged, the case shows - yet again - that whatever the web giant's intentions, it can be compelled to release user info. ®

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