Jan 26, 2015 · 2 minutes

WikiLeaks has complained about Google's decision not to inform three of its journalists their personal Gmail accounts had been compromised by a Justice Department warrant until December 23, 2014, nearly three years after the warrant was issued in March 2012.

The warrant required Google to hand over information about the contents and metadata -- information about a message's recipients, the date it was sent, etc. -- to the FBI. It's not clear how much data was provided to the government after the warrant was issued.

Google told WikiLeaks it couldn't discuss the warrant when it was issued because of a now-expired gag order. In a letter, WikiLeaks and the Center for Constitutional Rights asked if Google fought the warrant, or at least for the right to discuss it with its subjects.

This isn't the first time the Justice Department has tried to obtain information from or about journalists: it accessed the call records of an Associated Press bureau in 2012, and tried for years to force New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal a source for his 2006 book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration."

The Justice Department backed off of Risen, who was previously threatened with being held in contempt of court if he didn't reveal his source during a trial against former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, in December 2014. (He still testified during the trial, however.)

Trevor Timm, the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, argues in a column for the Guardian that the department should also stop investigating WikiLeaks:

Now would be a good time to officially drop [the] WikiLeaks investigation, too – since if WikiLeaks is prosecuted, the New York Times or the Guardian could be next, as they’ve all published classified information from WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden (and countless other sources) too.

It shouldn’t be the government’s job to decide who is enough of a journalist in their minds to qualify for the constitutional and legal protections that can and should be afforded to all of them – since it’s clear that, when they do, almost nobody qualifies, whether it’s James Risen, James Rosen or Julian Assange. WikiLeaks says none of its journalists use Gmail to discuss classified information or work-related issues. The accounts targeted by the warrant were used for personal reasons, such as one staffer's efforts to console her mother when a family member died.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]