Federal agents requested and retrieved records from Google concerning a Gmail account that contained threatening speech, Google Watch has learned.
The agents requested the records on June 22nd, 2006 after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) notified the FBI they had received a threatening e-mail.
The recovered records included the offending e-mail, registration information, session timestamps, and originating IP addresses for email@example.com.
That e-mail address allegedly was used by a Randall C. Ashby II to send threatening speech from Weston, West Virginia to the Washington Bureau of the NAACP on May 22,2006. That act was a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 875c (Interstate Communication of a Threat).
The email read:
"You are no match for our numbers and our power. We will come out of the night and rise from the dirt to murder you in your sleep. Meet us on 6/6/06 to seal your fate. The end is at hand, accept your place at the foot of the true masters throne. The kingdom of god is for naught, Hell will rule the earth soon enough. We will meet you at the center of sin, Washington on June 6th or you can hide and die like the insignificant mortals you are. Christ is Dead."According to court records, there is currently no legal action against Google pending in this matter. A Google spokesperson said that the company complies with all lawful requests for information with proper process.
The documents contain no information about whether Ashby was charged, or whether there is an ongoing investigation. Google Watch is seeking comment from the FBI and Ashby.
However, the documents obtained by Google Watch tell, in their own right, a fascinating tale of digital sleuthing.
Upon learning of the threatening email from the NAACP, the FBI requested information from Google via a federal grand jury subpoena. Google replied that the email address was created on May 22nd, the date the threatening email was sent. Google also told the FBI that the user applied for the account using the name AntiChrist Millenium and gave a secondary email account: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using registration information from Yahoo, the FBI determined that the owner of both accounts was Mr. Randolph C. Ashby II, a resident of New York state. Using IP address and timestamp information from Google and Yahoo, the FBI determined that both accounts were accessed on the same day in the same location: a law office in Weston, West Virginia.
The FBI interviewed the law office staff and learned that the office maintained an annex office across the parking lot. The office contained a computer that was not password-protected and had access to the Internet. The office was accessible via an adjacent apartment.
After investigating the apartment records, the FBI learned that Ashby rented the apartment from May 20, 2006 to June of 2006. Ashby left a forwarding address for Dover, Delaware. The FBI caught up with him there, and Ashby admitting to accessing email@example.com.
The FBI agents used the above information as probable cause to obtain a search warrant and, as a result, received information about Ashby's email account.
Update: A previous version of this post incorrectly said that FBI agents searched the premises of Google's headquarters. FBI agents applied for a warrant to search Google's headquarters. Google compied, but all information was sent to the FBI without an FBI visit to Google's offices.