Federal court allows Chevron to access journalist and activist metadata

The company lost a major lawsuit in Ecuador last year, and is demanding metadata from Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google to build a racketeering case against the plaintiffs.


Joe Kloc

Internet Culture

Published Jul 15, 2013   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 11:25 am CDT

A U.S. district court judge has granted the oil giant Chevron’s request for email metadata of 30 journalists, activists, and lawyers.

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Last year Chevron attempted to subpoena the email logs of more than 100 people involved in a lawsuit against the company in which a judge in Ecuador ordered it to pay more than $18 billion in environmental damages for polluting the Amazon basin. 

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According to a court filing in the Ecuadorian case, Chevron called the judgement “fraudulent and based on serious violations of due process and Ecuadorian law. It is the work of a handful of U.S. lawyers and consultants, in concert with Ecuadorian judicial and government officials, who manipulated a court system susceptible to corruption and political pressure.”

The filing goes on to request compensation for “moral damages…due to Ecuador’s outrageous and illegal conduct.”

In the aftermath of the ruling, the oil giant has targeted Steven Donziger, the lead U.S. legal advisor for the plaintiff in the Ecuadorian case. The company hopes to use the email metadata from Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google to build a racketeering case against Donziger. 

Chevron is alleging Donziger violated the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act—known as RICO—which was devised to go after organized crime.

Motions to quash the email subpoenas asserted that they were in violation of the First Amendment rights to anonymous speech and association. Last month, the first of those motions  was denied in U.S. district court.

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In his ruling for the Microsoft subpoena, the judge in the case argued that because the he was not given any names associated with the email accounts, there was no reason to believe the account holders were U.S. citizens. The Google and Yahoo cases have yet to be decided.

The Chevron ruling was handed down only weeks after a former U.S. National Security Agency contractor revealed the existence of a large-scale government surveillance operation that collected emails, messages, photos, and videos of U.S. citizens.

In both instances, courts were able to seize the data of Americans the grounds the investigations were not based on U.S. citizens. 

“They have not shown any entitlement to First Amendment protection,” the judge concluded in the Chevron case.

Photo by Mike Baird/Flickr

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*First Published: Jul 15, 2013, 12:17 pm CDT