This month a U.S. court allowed Chevron to gain access to identifying information about email accounts from Microsoft. Chevron issued three subpoenas last fall to Microsoft, Google and Yahoo with a request for the companies to give Chevron account information and IP addresses of more than 100 email accounts. The oil company says these accounts were involved in a conspiracy to defraud the company over an oil spill in Ecuador.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Earth Rights International filed to quash the subpoenas in October, and decisions are now starting to trickle out, seemingly in overwhelming favor of Chevron. The battle over the case began in 1993 over Texaco’s operation strategy during the 1970s and 80s. Chevron, which acquired Texaco in 2001, has chosen not to settle for the Ecuadorean court’s decision to pay billions of dollars in damages. Rather, the company is suing apparently everyone who accused them of wrongdoing instead.
The plaintiffs in Ecuador were found to have falsified documents, and were led by an ambitious lawyer that was caught on tape bragging about how he would do anything it took to win the judges’ favor. Chevron defended itself by saying there was no scientific proof of human harm, but was found liable anyway. Tides have turned now, though, as Judge Lewis Kaplan of the U.S. District Court has granted Chevron’s subpoena to uncover the names of environmentalists, journalists and lawyers. Kaplan claims the identities of the email users do not have First Amendment protection as they have not outwardly indicated being U.S. citizens.
So far, it only looks like Chevron will be able to determine locations of certain emails over a period of nine years, apparently in an attempt to establish evidence of an organized conspiracy. However, the implications are frightening. Anyone who has criticized the company over the last decade could be subject to scrutiny beyond the parameters of the law. Also, as the legal attacks from Chevron came on the advice of a public relations expert, it may backfire on Chevron’s sloppy attempt to save face. Many people will be outraged, especially environmentalists looking for freedom to speak out on issues like pollution and fossil fuels.