Jan 29, 2015 · 1 minute

An attorney for Google has told the Washington Post that the company did fight a gag order preventing it from telling three WikiLeaks journalists their Gmail accounts were monitored by the Justice Department as the result of a warrant issued in March 2012.

The statement was made in response to questions from WikiLeaks regarding Google's compliance with the warrant, the existence of which it didn't reveal to its subjects until December 2014, more than two-and-a-half years after the warrant was first issued.

The warrant allowed the FBI to receive metadata and the full content of any messages sent via the monitored accounts. (WikiLeaks says the Gmail accounts were for personal use and that all sensitive conversations take place via encrypted communications tools.)

Google's legal counsel said in an interview with the Washington Post that it has fought all gag orders related to such warrants since 2011. He also said the nature of this battle has forced it to be waged in secret, making it hard for Google to reassure its customers.

This episode highlights the problem with reports about the government surveilling journalists: it's never clear how eager technology companies are to comply with the government's demands, and until these restrictions change, it probably never will be.

That's only going to become increasingly problematic for journalists, against whom the Obama administration has waged a not-so-covert war by snooping on them, trying to force them to reveal their sources, or hounding whistleblowers with the Espionage Act.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]