Alphabet Inc.’s Google has agreed to improve its compliance program in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, which said the search giant lost data federal investigators sought in connection with a probe into a cryptocurrency exchange.
The DOJ said Tuesday that a third-party independent compliance professional will monitor whether Google holds up its end of the deal. Under the agreement, Google will be required to reform and upgrade the compliance program that handles responses to legal demands such as subpoenas and search warrants.
Google estimates it has already spent more than $90 million on systems and staffing to improve the program, and prosecutors have agreed a penalty isn’t warranted, according to a settlement document filed in San Francisco federal court.
“Google has a long track record of protecting our users’ privacy, including pushing back against overbroad government demands for user data, and this agreement in no way changes our ability or our commitment to continue doing so,” a Google representative said.
The settlement has its roots in a protracted legal debate between big tech and the government over whether the U.S. could compel tech companies to turn over data held on systems outside the country.
Before Congress in 2018 updated a law known as the Stored Communications Act to make it clear that U.S. warrants and subpoenas could get at data held abroad, the limits of that law were being hashed out in court.
The DOJ said Google failed to turn over data, held abroad, that U.S. investigators wanted in connection with a probe into BTC-e, a cryptocurrency exchange that was indicted for alleged money laundering. An appeals court in New York in a similar case found the foreign-held data couldn’t be reached under the SCA.
Prosecutors obtained a warrant in 2016 for the data Google held, but Google and the DOJ litigated over the warrant through 2017 and 2018, the DOJ said. Google also created tools so the data wouldn’t be backed up stateside as the dispute unfolded, the DOJ said.
By the time Congress passed legislation clarifying that the SCA could apply to information held abroad, the data that investigators sought from Google had been lost, the DOJ said.
“This agreement demonstrates the department’s resolve in ensuring that technology companies, such as Google, provide prompt and complete responses to legal process to ensure public safety and bring offenders to justice,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite said.