Google Monitors User’s E-mail for Child Porn and Contacts The Police (CA Penal Code 311.11)

Most people don’t think twice about using their Google account as a primary e-mail provider; it’s free and convenient.  In fact, many colleges and universities have switched over to Google for these very reasons.  However, what you may not know is that Google could be monitoring your email account for any number of things. In one Houston man’s case, they were monitoring for child pornography.  Google found an image attached to the man’s e-mail that contained child pornography.  They immediately contacted local authorities, the man’s cell phone was confiscated and then his house was later searched, all due to a tip from Google (the warrant to search the man’s home was based entirely on information Google offered to authorities).

This should come as no surprise to those who have been paying close attention to outfits like Google over the years.  For quite some time, they have been publicly partnered with two groups that work to prevent the sexual exploitation of children; the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Internet Watch Foundation.  Still, Google has refused to inform the public of one thing, how they got a hold of the information in the suspect’s e-mail.

In the United States, the issue of privacy has always been an important one.  It’s meant to be a large part of a free and liberal democracy, one dependent on preserving individual freedoms.  So, can you reasonably expect privacy from your Google email account?  The simple answer is a resounding “No.”  In fact, Google includes this provision in its terms and services agreement that you electronically sign each time you press “accept” though hardly anyone ever stops to read it.  Google can legally scan your e-mail for any number of things, including illegal activity, and they have every right to do this because you’ve agreed to it in the first place.  Of course, Google representative claim that they do not scan for any other illegal activity besides child pornography.

If this man lived in California, he might have been charged with violations of CA Penal Code 311.1 and 311.2 (sending, transporting, duplicating, etc. child pornography for the purposes of distribution) 311.3 (developing, duplicating, exchanging, or printing child pornography), and CA Penal Code 311.11 (possessing child pornography).  Felony penalties can include up to 8 years in state prison, $100,000 in fines, and lifetime registry as a sex offender. 

This is nothing new.  Various businesses take part in e-mail and Internet usage monitoring when it comes to their employees and colleges and universities scan the same for illegal activity as well.  It’s similar to various state laws that require that hospital emergency rooms have to report evidence of a crime (like gun and knife wound and potential child abuse).  The lesson to be learned here is this:  if you use a service like Google as your e-mail provider, make sure that you understand that you have no reasonable right to expect privacy, regardless of how clear or unclear you believe the Constitution to be on this point.